Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11, NJB)
Sometimes, life doesn’t go the way we want it to, or think it should. Sometimes, it’s downright nasty, difficult, and seemingly hopeless. So many times, through illness, job losses, deaths in the family (especially those of children, or the parents of young children), or other difficulties come up in our lives, and we’re left feeling very alone against the world, wondering where God is through it all. We’re told by religious friends and leaders (who often seem utterly untouched by the ravages of life themselves), to look to our faith and to the Scripture for peace, to trust in God’s promises. One favourite is the verse quoted above, from Jeremiah 29:11. Yet so often, in the midst of our despair, we feel that this passage is nothing more than a saccharine cliché. If God has a plan for our good, why do our lives so often go so wrong?
The key to understanding this biblical promise oft-quoted by our too-chipper friends, is to understand the text in context. Does Jeremiah 29:11 promise that God will give us a life free of care, where we will be happy all the day if we simply have enough faith? Absolutely not! Consider that this promise was given as the Jews were being led away into captivity into Babylon! Verse 2 tells us that the King himself, the Queen Mother, and the royal officials had already been deported, and the Babylonian troops were coming back for the rest of the citizenry. Clearly, God’s not saying that everything in the present is going to be rosy! Rather, He is promising that this apparent tragedy can and will be used for the Jews’ good. Through this time of suffering, they will be brought to repentance, to a place of sincere and wholehearted searching for God (cf. vv. 12-13).
Like the Jews of history, all of us are undergoing a period of “exile” from our true home, the Heavenly Jerusalem. Like the Jews, our King and His Queen Mother have already gone through this exile, and are with us through it. And God has promised that this time of exile, as we go through this “valley of tears”, can be a time of grace for us, that will indeed be for our good. Faith in God won’t always bring us immediate blessing, prosperity, or success. But we know that it will, if endured patiently and with trust, lead to our good. What is our good? Ultimately, it is God Himself. It is the blessed future and hope of Heaven. God has promised that everything that happens to us here, the good, the bad, and the downright ugly, is for the attainment of that greatest Good (cf. Romans 8:28). Why does God allow these times of suffering? Precisely to remind us that the good things of this life are temporary and unsatisfying. When we are deprived of them, we are reminded that they are not the source of happiness, but rather God Himself.
And so, as we journey through this valley of tears with Jesus and Mary, we pray,
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us,
And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus,
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
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