10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Verse eleven above is often quoted on bookmarks and other paraphernalia. Taken on its own it is saccharine and innocuous to the point of being almost meaningless for anyone who finds themselves in the midst of any life stage other than "smooth sailing".
Its worth remembering this verse comes on the heals of God's word to those who had been uprooted from their homes in and around Jerusalem and forcibly relocated to Babylon by occupying armies. Not only that, but they have also heard this will be no fleeting trial. Thus says the Lord, only after 70 years of exile shall I hear your cry and answer once more to bring you home. In the meantime, hunker down. Don't defer living. Build a house and plant a garden.
Back in Exodus, part of the rationale for having Israel wonder in the desert for 40 years before gaining entry into the promised land was so that an entire generation would pass with only the next generation actually entering the promised land. Here, God sends word to folk who are already adults informing them that no return from exile will be granted until 70 years have passed.
Oh, but don't worry: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope."
In order for God's word to endow the hope it offers in this case - and I believe it most certainly does - we have to come to grips with the challenging reality that God's plans for us:
1) Always take individuals into account, but very rarely obsess about individuality (least of all individual salvation) to the extent that we are trained to do by modernity; and,
2) Often allow for no small amount of hardship and trial in order to disabuse us of our nasty habits of adultery and idolatry.
In the first case, the hope God's promise offers is not that everything will be alright for each of us sooner or later; rather, we are part of something (the Whole People of God) much bigger than individual trials and victories. As such, we have a communal claim on a portion of the divine redemption of all things.
In the second case, God's offers hope untethered from the slings and arrows of weekly or generational eventualities. This is not to say that our suffering is unimportant to God. Just the opposite, God is so intent upon delivering us (collectively) finally from evil that the Divine willed to suffer and die alongside us in firm solidarity so that we could become possessed of the hope that passes all understanding.
Exile is never permanent - even if we die in its grip!
This powerful - and, admittedly difficult - teaching turns us upside down and inside out. It gave the exiled Jerusalem remnant in Babylon the courage and endurance to look to the life and welfare of the foreign lands they were in. It gives me the hope to stop obsessing about my own difficulties and bear them more lightly while I work for justice and mercy today where I am.
God of exiles and wonderers, you are my hope and my future. I give you thanks for the many blessings in my life and pray for the grace of ever-increasing gratitude. I confess that I am also caught up in troubles beyond my control or understanding. I trust you to bring deliverance and liberation in your time. In the meantime, I pray for all those who are forced from home today by forces of warfare, economic wrangling or natural disasters - especially indigenous peoples. Amen.