“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
January is traditionally a time when we look to the new year with hope. We make our resolutions; we get new calendars and save dates for the plans we have. I’m finding that difficult to do this year with any specificity. How can I resolve to get to the gym three days a week if I have lingering doubts on whether my kids will be in school? My short-term happiness is often determined by the level of control I have over my daily life.
We love that verse from Jeremiah about God having a plan for us. It’s used to celebrate graduations, to give people hope that things will work out for us. But that’s not what the verse is about.
Jeremiah was speaking to a people who were suffering in exile. It wasn’t a promise that would be fulfilled any time soon; God’s promises were often intended for the next generation, and sometimes much later generations.
God plays the long game. The really long game. Our hope in God is not that things will work things out for us in the short term, but that God is always bringing new life. God is always doing a new thing. Recently, I read about a fossilized ichthyosaurus that was discovered in Nevada. What was cool about this find was what it told scientists about how quickly life can develop: “Even after a massive extinction event where the entire world is in turmoil, life can diversify really, really fast.” Apparently, these creatures evolved into gigantic sea monsters in only 2.5 million years.
The earth went through five major extinctions before we ever even existed. I find hope in that. It’s the story of death and resurrection. Those major extinctions weren’t the end of life, they were the beginnings of new life. Now, I’m not in favor of another mass extinction, but I can see in this the story what God has been telling those who will listen for generations: new beginnings require endings.
Have you ever seen the photos from the regeneration around Chernobyl? In just thirty years, it has grown into one of the largest nature preserves in Europe. It took death and disaster to create a safe space for life to grow.
One of my biggest struggles during this pandemic has been the desire to go back to what was before. I have been drawn to the story of the Exodus. It is the story of a people being called forward. In order to move forward, they had to leave the past behind, but worse: they had to endure a season of wilderness.
We want to skip the hard part of the wilderness and get right to the land of promise, but the seasons of wilderness exist for a reason, and usually that reason is our own stubbornness. We wander in circles because we won’t let go of some image of what we thought life would look like. We keep striving for a future that was part of an old timeline that no longer exists.
We cannot go back to the old timeline of 2019. It is gone. That future will never come to fruition.
A new and possibly better future has been drawn before us. It is our choice whether we continue forward, through the ambiguity, through the trials and errors (and there will be errors!) or if we continue to circle back to the old path that leads to nowhere.
Let us move forward in 2022. Forward into a new future. Forward into a new faith for a new world.