I just need to keep this on the Internet forever. I’ll probably come back and edit it later for errors, but for now it will suffice.
Here’s why Jeremiah 29.11 is taken out of context.
What people mean when they use it [especially in graduations]:
Hey, God’s got good plans for you. Great, easy life ahead! Don’t worry about the future – it’s all positive because God’s got good plans! See, it says it right there! So just be ready for the good life!
What Jeremiah 29.11 really means:
1. Read Jeremiah 25. There Jeremiah promises the people of Israel that because of their wickedness [violence and injustice, primarily], God is going to send them into exile in the near future. The land of Israel was promised to become “a ruin and a waste, and [Israel] shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” God promises disaster on them.
2. In 2 Chronicles 36.15-20 we read that God kept his promise. Sure enough, the Babylonians came. They killed the people [even IN the temple!!], not just soldiers but innocents as well. They plundered the temple, burned down the palace and the temple, and left the land in ruins. They were ruthless [Zedekiah, the king, had to watch his sons be killed in front of him then had his eyes gouged out right after!] and brutal [see also Habakkuk 1:5-11!]. The Babylonians did not nicely ask the people of Israel to go into exile.
3. Back to Jeremiah. After Jeremiah warns the people that their sin is gross and awful and offensive and will bring judgment, he reminds them that this is God’s doing. He’s telling them this so that when the Babylonians do come, they won’t think that somehow God has abandoned them. Instead He encourages them to accept these events from God’s hand [see Jeremiah 27]. Jeremiah 29 is part of this encouragement. God tells the future exiles to settle into the land, to seek the GOOD of these evil captors, and to trust that He’s brought them to Babylon and after 70 years He’ll bring them out. Read Jeremiah 29:1-14. Make sense?
4. And sure enough, God did it. Cyrus decreed [Ezra 1] that the Israelites could return back to their land and they did, albeit in smaller numbers than before.
5. The point: Jeremiah is not saying that everything in life is going to just work out fine. What he’s saying is that even when life looks like it’s going to hell God is in control. He’s warning the people that their lives are about to be bad but God is STILL good.
I say that most people take it out of context because if they really understood what it meant they wouldn’t write it on a coffee cup or give it to a graduate. “Hey, your freshman year of college might be spent all alone because you have no friends and you get mono for two months. But that plan of God to give you no friends and mono? That’s for good.” “You may be drowning in debt and unable to find a job. But guess what? That’s to prosper you!”
Jeremiah 29.11 is a GREAT verse. It’s good truth. But it’s not a mere sentimentality, and people who use it in that way cheapen it greatly.
Don’t be one of those people.