Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Future And A Hope

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

Today is my 37th birthday.  I decided to search for bible verses about birthdays, and one of the most frequent to come up in my search (i.e. If you exclude those on the birth of Christ) was Jeremiah 29:11.  It is such a beautiful verse filled with immense hope, and I wanted to look into the context of it.  Conduct a Google search of Jeremiah 29:11 and you're likely to see it referred to as "the most misinterpreted verse in the Bible."  This verse gets this moniker for a reason.

This verse, quoted to countless individuals who are struggling with discerning God’s will for them, is not written to individuals at all. This passage is written to a whole group of people—the exiled Jewish people in Babylon. The “you” in Jeremiah 29:11 is actually plural and if it had been written by an American southerner instead of the prophet Jeremiah it would say "y'all" instead of you.

We need to let the Bible speak to us, as God intended for it to do.  We should not allow our own personal bent to speak into the Scriptures.  The propensity for people to take verses out of context and to allow their personal bent to be applied to verses is one of the reasons that homosexuality is condemned by modern Christians. Context matters—God speaks at a particular moment in time, to a particular people group, for a reason.

What this means is that God has plans for a whole group of people, in this instance, the Jewish exiles. And if we read on in the Scriptures we find that this promise was fulfilled: those in exile returned, and the Hebrew nation was restored for a time. God made a promise through the prophets, and that promise came true.

But that’s not the end of the story, either. There is something to the out-of-context prescriptions that so many make using this verse. God is a God of redemption, after all, and He wants to redeem people and put them on a path of wholeness, just as He wanted the Hebrew nation to be redeemed and whole again.

Biblical scholars have said that in this passage, the Jeremiah is speaking not just of historical redemption, for that period in time, but also of “future redemption.” For the Israelites, God listened to their prayers when they sought Him with all their heart, and in His time, He brought them out of exile.  But how does any of this apply to us today? Can we still take heart in such a beautiful promise—even though it was spoken to people long ago, people in a far different situation than ours?

First and foremost, we are all in this together. This verse does not apply to isolated individuals or to a broad community. It applies to both, together, functioning as one. The image painted here is one of individuals in community, like the Body of Christ which Paul talks about. Here are a people, worshiping God together, hoping for a future redemption.

We don't need to be exiles living in Babylon to faithfully appropriate Jeremiah 29:11, but let's remember something about this chapter when we quote verse 11. First, it was written to people in incredible pain, more than most of us will ever experience. They were mourning death, a move, and a transition to enslavement all at once. And yet into that context, God can still speak words of hope. That's amazing.

I think when we apply this verse to a group who is downtrodden and seem to be without hope, this verse becomes even more powerful.  As LGBT Christians and our allies, we often find ourselves exiled from the church, but that does not mean that we should be kept from our communion with God.  God is so much more powerful, loving, and understanding than humans are.  He created us the way we are, and we must love and worship Him.  We must not give up on our faith because of the things men do, but we should believe in the redemptive power of God.   Jeremiah is sending a message to all those in exile to keep the faith, because God knows the plans He has for us, and these are plans for welfare and not for evil, to give us a future and a hope.

And on one final note, as I was looking up verses for birthdays, I came across a site called BirthVerse (, where a group has gone through the Bible matching up numerical birth dates with chapter and verse in books of the Bible and has chosen a inspirational verse for each day of the year.  My BirthVerse happens to be Proverbs 11:30, which reads:

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.


Susan said...

Good morning, Joe. And Happy Birthday! Wishing you joy, good health and serenity on your special day and throughout the coming year. :)

silvereagle said...

Happy birthday young man. Would like to go to your drugstore and meet the young man from yesterday and see if my gaydar is working on your behalf. That will be my present to you.

Amanda said...

Happy Birthday!! Hope your day is a great one filled with lots of goodies! Every year we make it is reason to celebrate! Thank goodness to have such a loving God that has plans for us even if we may not know what they are. :)

JiEL said...

All my best wishes for you, young man, hoping you a great birthday celebration.

For your "Christian" words, must admit I'm not too in that because I'm so assuered that God is far more wise than we can even think of...

So, I'm confident in life knowing HE's there very close to me and everyone..

All the "bla bla" that priests or himams can twist in our brain are, for me, just interpretations of the REAL bible or coran.
LOVE, and only LOVE is my faith...

(((( Birthday HUGS ))))

JiEL, 64 yo.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post today. Happy birthday friend ��

Bodhisbuddy said...

First of all, Happy Birthday! And may you have many more.

Now, as to your post, I'm more than a bit confused. It sounds to me, in the third paragraph, that you are trying to argue that biblical interpretation must be made in historical context, but also that, if it's convenient, comparisons can be made to similar situations?? But not to personal ones?? I don't see how you can defend this. If the Bible is relevant as anything other than a history, wouldn't it have to be interpreted personally? And in non-contextual ways? Isn't each translation into a different language, by definition, a personal interpretation? Isn't that why we have so many different English language versions? What makes a 'scholar' able to declare God's intent any more reliably than the Holy Spirit working within any pious reader of Scripture? Or are scholarly findings the new Inspired Word of God Revealed in today's age, and scholars are our new prophets? I guess what I want to know is your litmus test to determine whether a particular interpretation of a Biblical verse is licit vs. the ravings of the wrongheaded.

Perhaps this can't be addressed simply and this blog might not be the best venue for the discussion, but it's a rather atypical posting for you, in my opinion. It's quite possible that I'm just not seeing your point clearly (or have missed it entirely)and everyone else isn't having a problem with it. Perhaps you'd like to expand in further Sunday posts...or not.

Regardless, thank you for provoking thought.

Coop said...

Happy Birthday, Joe!

Joe said...

Bodhisbuddy, I think this is simply an example of me being unclear in my writing. I've been accused of that a time or two and I am sorry. I do believe that the Bible should speak to us personally. I think that is the purpose of the Holy Spirit to guide us as we read and study the Bible. However, with that being said, I think that the central message of the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus is LOVE, so when someone's interpretation comes out as hate, then I do think it is wrongheaded.

I also think that on of the problems with, not the interpretations of the Bible, but with picking and choosing verses is that they are often taken out of context. When this is done, people often condemn and show hate for people because they take a verse out of the context of the verses around it. It can be very damaging when used as a weapon this way. However, we can take hope from various passages, bit we should also look at the context. In this case, Jeremiah is talking about the exiled Jews, but I think that we can apply this to a modern concept. As LGBT Christians, we often feel exiled from the community of Christ, and so I think that we can learn from the exile of the Jews.

I was raised a member of the Church of Christ, and I was always taught that the Old Teatament, which this verse comes from, is history more so than the laws of God for Christians. As a historian myself, I think we should learn from history and take lessons for makind from it. In this case, we can compare the exile of the Jews to the exile of LGBT Christians. It may not be a perfect comparison, but I do think it gives us a different perspective to look at.

Honestly, I'm not sure if I was any clearer with my explanation in this comment than I was in the post, but I hope that I was. The main point of this post was to say that there I believe there is a future where LGBT Christians will be welcomed with open arms within the larger Christian community, and it is my hope that we will see that day sooner rather than later. It is also to mean that God has a plan for each of us. We are part of a larger world in which God wants us to be good in deed and thought. I try to do that daily, though I have to admit that I'm not always successful, but I do the best that I can do and hope that each day I do better.

I have probably rambled enough in this response, and I will do my best to think more clearly on it and in the next few weeks write a post about interpretation and contextualization of the Bible.

Joe said...

I also want to thank you all for your birthday wishes. It has been a very blessed day.

Bodhisbuddy said...

Thanks for responding, Joe. You gave me pretty much exactly what I wanted in the following line

"... I think that the central message of the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus is LOVE, so when someone's interpretation comes out as hate, then I do think it is wrongheaded."

I think it's still possible to 'spin' a hateful interpretation in such a way that it tries to come across as 'tough love', but your insight does make an extremely useful tool for me to use when considering someone's use of Scripture.

Bless you!

Michael Dodd said...

Sorry to be late with my birthday wishes! I meant to be here on the day but somehow got derailed. Also, this is one of my favorite scriptures. The version I like best (can't think offhand which it is) refers to "a future full of hope." May all your futures be full of hope and your every present moment filled with love, light and laughter.