The Continual Failure of My Eyes
by Mike McKinniss
Lately, I’ve been thinking a bit about my future and God’s will. It’s an infection that comes on us all, and its cure in one season does not, sadly, leave us immune from subsequent attacks. It is a perilous disease, which, allowed to run its rampant course, may leave the sufferer paralyzed or worse.
Over the years, many friends and acquaintances have quoted to me Jeremiah 29:11, claiming it gave them comfort and, indeed, confidence in facing their futures. “‘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'” (NIV).
It’s an encouraging word, to be sure, but I’ve rarely heard anyone offer comfort in the context of the preceding verse: “This is what the LORD says: ‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place'” (Jer. 29:10, NIV).
The long and short: every Israelite living in exile at the time of Jeremiah’s utterance, captives of their archenemy the Babylonians, would be dead before God’s good plans for the people of Israel would come about. There’s no way around it, Jeremiah 29:10 is a gut punch to his people, even if everyone’s favorite life verse—don’t get me started—offers a glimmer of hope.
So it’s all got me thinking about my future. Life has twisted and turned on me in unforeseen directions and left me wondering how that’s affected the years that lay ahead. Am I doing it right? Did I miss something along the way and jeopardize the whole affair? Where will it all lead? And what if I do it all wrong?
I don’t think I’m alone. It seems many of us have had a notion of the Lord’s will as a straight line. Whether on a global scale, or more often, on the more personal individualized level, we tend to see God’s will, as a friend recently put it, like a tightrope. You had better keep your balance, or you’ll fall to something less that the Creator’s good and perfect will.
This kind of approach can leave us in a dire position: desperate for approval, yet never attaining it. All too easily, we can reflect on a finished day and recount the myriad missteps, when we placed our foot not on wire, but on empty air—another fall.
Oh, we know God is gracious, so we tell ourselves he’s erected a fall-back tightrope on which to land. But we know as well as God does that it’s just that, a fall-back. We know all too well that we’re on a secondary tightrope. Or, more accurately, a millenary high wire. Deep down we know that we are not living God’s highest and best purposes for our lives, but his thousandth choice for what he might have had for us.
I’m taking comfort, of all places, from the words of Gandalf the Grey. Early in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo frets over the uncertainty of journey before him. “Where am I to go? And by what shall I steer? What is to be my quest?” He asks. Then, speaking of his dear uncle Bilbo, who had famously adventured before him, he says, “Bilbo went to find a treasure, there and back again; but I go to lose one, and not return, as far as I can see.”
There it is, the heart of our doomsday questions. We won’t survive this adventure, we fear. We cannot see a way out.
Gandalf, Frodo’s friend and counsel, offers wise words: “But you cannot see very far.”
Truer words were never spoken. We are all of us myopic and cannot see our futures clearly beyond a few moments.
And this, truly, is where so much comfort comes in Jeremiah 29:11. At its heart, God’s word to the Israelites is not really that everything will turn up roses before too long, just stick it out. The promise is that the Lord is himself good, and he will remain faithful. It’s the promise that in the end, the Creator will sort it all out for good. It’s the promise of resurrection, though death looms. The death is still a real and biting reality, but the Creator has removed its real sting.
Where am I going and how will I get there? I have no idea, really. But I can take the first steps out my door and trust that the Lord will prove a good and faithful guide.