As graduation approaches both the high school and college crowd here in my little college town, the feel good verse of the bible is really being taken for a ride.
Jeremiah 29:11 reads:
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.
It is on seemingly every graduation card, used in every end-of-program speech, and popping up on email signatures of both young and old. And quite frankly, I find it's use annoying.
A quick story.
I was a bit of a romantic back in high school - I loved writing good letters, poems, songs, etc. This was before email and the twitters and so letters were more than just letters...done well, they were works of art. I took great pride in the crafting good letters, perfect mix tapes, and writing overly dramatic plays (that I never seemed to finish). Fast forward to now, where I have been married for many years to the love of my life. I still write now, just not nearly as often. Would it be fair for a stranger off the street to pick up one of these letters, read it, and begin telling the world how much I love them? I would think not...the letter was written to a specific person in a specific time frame and with a specific purpose.
As such, I'm annoyed at how often folks adopt the Lord's statement to Jeremiah. Quite frankly, it has nothing to do with them. In fact, think how different the starving child in Haiti must read that verse. Or how the aging abuse victim reads that verse. Or the young cancer victim. It's almost insulting to adopt that verse as a universal statement of God's plans to make - insert yourself here - wealthy and give you hope. Quite often, it doesn't work that way.
And that brings me down the path of some thoughts I've been having for some time. I'm somewhat of a recovering Calvinist. In two sentences (or less), I always identified with Derek Webb's notion that God is not some "cosmic janitor," racing around cleaning up people's messes while simultaneously trying to get some of his will done. I've never really taken to the message that we have much of a say in what God chooses to do...because he's God. Pretty simple. If he chooses to predestine a few and torture the rest, so be it. Not a whole lot I can do about it. Now obviously, this view does not fare well, especially here in the United States where any successes we have or do not have are theoretically tied to our desire, fortitude, work ethic, and "want-to."
I have found in my own faith tradition, we like the idea of God having plans for us as long as they match our own desires, hopes, and dreams. When all is well, God is planning for us. When things go askew, we have somehow managed to mess it up.
I've been talking to students who are on the eve of graduation and one of my favorite questions to ask is, "So now what?" To a person, nearly every student at my faith based university says that they are really praying for God's wisdom and direction on what they should do next. Take a job or go go grad school. Work a summer job and chill or start something new next Monday. Interestingly, I live very much the same way.
Several years ago, I was the finalist for a wonderful job in a new city far away. Dream job. My wife and I prayed that God would just make things clear. Make them easy. So we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt. After much prayer, we just knew that we would get either a mega-offer or that I would get turned down and God would be "letting us know" what he wanted for our lives. We got neither. I got a medium offer. Good, but not great. Good enough in theory...not good enough to pack up and head across the country for. So I turned it down and we were left with some lingering questions as to what God wanted us to do. Had we done the right thing? Was I being a snob? Was God calling us somewhere and I had just thwarted his will? Blah, blah, blah.
Several years, and many important decisions later, I think that I am losing belief in the idea of providence. This idea of God having a stake in all major decisions in our lives. I believe that lightening strikes...but I'm beginning to doubt whether God throws the bolts.
In fact, I've come to believe that this idea of praying for God's providence in certain situations, i.e.:
"We found a great deal on our big new house...it was a total God thing!"
"We're just praying on whether or not we should move to a new college."
"I just don't think God wants me to go to grad school right now..."
and so on is passing the buck at best, and at worst, a total lack of willingness to be accountable for our own decisions and actions. See, I've found that I'm quite the wimp when it comes to making big decisions. Should we buy a house? Should I take that job? Should I_____? Those decisions are so much easier to stomach when I can pawn them off on some cosmic deity carrying out a big game of chess.
I think at the end of the day, God cares much less about the college I'm working for but instead cares that I'm serving him. At work. In the drive-thru. At the dry cleaners. And he would probably like me to quit co-opting his message to Jeremiah for my own sense of feel-goodness and placation. Instead, I can make hard decisions, frightening decisions, and sometimes family-tree changing decisions...being prayerful the whole way. And then taking personal ownership of the rewards/consequences.
God never told me he would prosper me and not harm me.
So I forge on, praying for his guidance and blessing...hoping that I receive them. And using prayer as a reminder to continue to be Christ-minded when making major decisions. And remembering that God may just not care what I'm doing or where I'm doing it...but how I'm doing whatever it is I'm doing.