Flash Forward

I made many attempts to read the Bible through consecutively from beginning to end. I had many failures. I realized I always stopped around the same place. I couldn’t get past the story of the young prophet Jeremiah, who some call “the weeping prophet.”

A line from a sci-fi 2009 TV show, Flash Forward, arrested my attention while we were binge watching the series. A supervisor tells the investigator, “I can’t think of a prophet that didn’t suffer… and I can’t think of a prophet that God didn’t love.”

A prophet who doesn’t know he or she is loved is a dangerous person. His or her own neediness or bitterness will taint how they view what they have seen or heard. Some prophets used their gift for self-aggrandizement. Faithful prophets in the Old Testament were routinely misunderstood and rejected. They often carried the burden of knowing what others refused to acknowledge. They lived in at least two places and different time zones, The Way We Are Going Now, and The Ways God Is Planning to Take Us In The Future — depending on our willingness to work with Him. Whether they were told to speak boldly in the palace and in the streets like Jeremiah or quietly ponder and keep the information to themselves like Mary, prophets carried both the burden of the ugliness of sin and its consequences and the beauty of hope of restoration. It’s not a vocation many people aspired to and some, like Jonah, even tried to escape.

Jeremiah knew he was loved from his first God encounter. Jeremiah was also misunderstood, rejected, and thrown into a pit for saying what no one in a position of privilege or power wanted to hear. Jeremiah’s worst suffering came from understanding the suffering that awaited those who rejected the help God offered. He knew the blessings awaiting those who chose to trust God, but he also knew the sorrow awaiting those who honoured their own wisdom above the Creator of the universe. He wrote:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit.
” (Jeremiah 17:7-8 NASB)

But he also wrote:

Thus says the Lord,
“Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind
And makes flesh his strength,
And whose heart turns away from the Lord.
For he will be like a bush in the desert
And will not see when prosperity comes,
But will live in stony wastes in the wilderness,
A land of salt without inhabitant.”
(verses 5 and 6)

In the midst of his lament for the people who treated him as a crazy, depressed, annoying, embarrassing conspiracy theory promoter, he also wrote in Jeremiah 29:

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. 

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope. 

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”

I hated reading Jeremiah and Lamentations because I hated the notion that God would allow someone he supposedly loved to suffer. I see now that God took Jeremiah into His confidence about His plans — His conspiracy for good. Jeremiah was loved by God, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

Conspiracy of Goodness

Munro Lake rain ch IMG_8359

The light was perfect on the little lake as I set up my camera. Then it started to rain. I muttered under my breath that everything seemed to be working against me that day.

Recently I heard someone say, “It feels like everything is conspiring against me.”

This past week I read dozens of social media posts from people who fear conspiracy in government, health, education, media, food production, even sports. I began to think about the word conspire.

Originally conspire meant to come into agreement, to breathe as one. Now it nearly always has a negative connotation. Now it involves people getting together to plan harm. An entire field of study on conspiracy theories has statistically-oriented people holed up in their academic cells pounding out dissertations on the subject at this very moment. Why do we reject legitimate warnings? Why do we believe far-fetched conjectures? Why does the motive of conspirators always seem to be to bring people down or control them?

Our son and daughter-in-law conspired to give their children something good. That summer, after snowmelt and unprecedented rain combined to flood their town, the kids watched as most of their possessions and big chunks of their home were tossed in a dumpster or piled on the street for large machinery to scoop up and haul away. Their Dad not only spent many hours working on his own home, but dedicated many more to shoveling muddy sewage out of other people’s homes and helping with a thousand other urgent matters as he was pastor of a church that owned one of the few public buildings in town that remained mostly dry.

Their parents told them that someone they knew was going on a trip to Disneyland and that they were driving to the airport to bring them their luggage. On the way their young son became sullen. As they pulled into the parking lot he could no longer contain himself.

“It’s not fair! Everybody else gets to do neat things! You always look after people and do good things for them like driving their suitcases to the airport, but a pastor doesn’t get to take his family on vacation. I hate your job!”

His parents quietly gave him a suitcase to pull to the terminal. Inside the door was a glass-covered poster advertising the thrill of Disneyland.

“Oh, look! There’s the family that is going on the trip!” Dad said, pointing to the display. Our granddaughter said she saw no family in the poster. Then she saw their own reflection in the glass. Her jaw dropped and she started jumping up and down in excitement. Our grandson refused to look. He didn’t get it. He was mad. It wasn’t until he was strapped in his seat on the plane that he accepted that it was his own family going on vacation and he broke out in a wide smile. He knew his parents had no money for a trip. It was just too hard for him to believe someone would give their family such a generous gift. He had to adjust to the idea of goodness and grace.

Sometimes conspiracies for good are about the joy of surprise. Sometimes they are for protection. We don’t tell children about events too soon in case plans change, or because they can’t understand timing. It’s not always wise to go public with business plans until everything is in place, lest the competition be given a heads-up. Sometimes people will make assumptions that steer their own preparations in the wrong direction if they know too much too soon.

We are actively trying to find the best living arrangement we can for my husband’s elderly mother. There is so much red tape and dealing with agencies who don’t seem to communicate with each other. And waiting. Waiting for appointments. Waiting for reports. Waiting for vacancies. Because her increasing memory problems make this process so confusing to her we have elected not to tell her the details. She knows we are doing something “behind her back.” Like our grandson looking resentfully at the luggage in the car, it is hard for her to believe we are not all in cahoots conspiring against her. It’s frustrating, and frankly somewhat painful. Her sons are both men of outstanding character who may be two of the most responsible, reliable, honest (to a fault) people on the planet. Sadly the disease has stolen that fact. She can’t remember who is trustworthy and who is not.

The Lord reminded me that I also have a tendency to assume he is conspiring against us.

“When, Lord?” I asked.

“When you complain that situations are hopeless, when you whine that answers take too long, when you blame me for messes of your own making but don’t ask me for help. You accuse me of conspiring against you when you forget my character and that I am good.”

Oops. Sorry.

Here’s the thing: if we believe the lie that our heavenly Father is an angry, controlling, megalomaniac in the sky who demands that we love him or he will make our lives a living hell, we will see all his plans as conspiracies of harsh punishment against us. If we remember his past goodness to us and his faithful loving character shown through Jesus Christ, who gave his life for us, we will see his plans as conspiracies of goodness – conspiracies for us.

One night I heard in a dream, “If I tell you where I am going with this it will remove the element of faith.”

Sometimes God doesn’t tell us all the details of his plans, for his own very good reasons. Sometimes he is giving us an entire renovation and all we see is our precious old stuff landing in the dumpster. Sometimes all we see is that everybody else is getting a trip to Disneyland. Sometimes all we see is one darn heavy suitcase after another that we have to carry for somebody else when he is giving us weight-lifting exercises so we will be prepared and strong enough to walk in a higher level of faith and authority.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit always breathe together in perfect unity. They are conspiring – for our good.

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. (Jeremiah 29:11)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)