Tea and Exile

The thing about Christian book shops is that they sell an awful lot of other things besides books. I realise they exist in a very competitive market and that they have to diversify in order to survive; it’s a tough world out there.

However, I’ve never been a great one for Christian CDs and such like. When asked my favourite Christian artist, I tend to reply J. S. Bach, which confuses some people. I think they wonder whether he is a new singer-songwriter that they haven’t come across yet.

Likewise, I don’t really have much time to posters of beautiful scenes with inspirational quotes written across them. I prefer my landscapes unadorned by typography. Time won’t allow me to comment on Bible key rings, religious place-mats and the like. That being said, if other people like these things and are willing to part with their hard-earned cash in order to buy them, that’s fine. Especially if it means that bookshops can survive and continue to sell Bibles, good books and such like.

However, I couldn’t resist making a comment about this mug which I recently found in an emporium selling Christian wares.  Let it be said, it looks a fine mug; big enough to keep even me supplied with tea at breakfast time. However, I do find Jeremiah 29:12 to be a strange bible verse to put on a mug. I wrote about this verse earlier this year:

This verse is often quoted to indicate that although an individual or group of people might be going through a tough time, everything will work out all right in the end. The problem is, this passage wasn’t written to that particular individual or group, it was written for an entirely different bunch of people altogether and there is nothing about this passage which says that it can be applied generally.  What’s more, this is only a partial quote. The preceding verse indicates that the nation of Judah will be in exile for 70 years before God’s plans come into effect. Almost everyone to whom this encouraging passage was originally addressed would be dead long before the encouragement came true.

I do hope that people who drink from this particular cup won’t find themselves living in exile for seventy years!

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29 thoughts on “Tea and Exile

  1. Hi Ed,

    I would just like to put the case for the defence on this one – not the mugs, but the verse. Especially since we have just stuck it up in our church entrance!

    Jeremiah spoke into a specific moment in the history of God’s people. So his promise was literally true for them, given the caveat of a 70 year exile. So how do we apply it today? I think it shows the character of God and his purposes for his people; it’s a wonderful alternative way to express John 3:16 – he gives sinners from every tribe, tongue and nation, a hope and a future. So Jeremiah 29 parallels NT gospel promises; you even get an exile – the gap between my effective call to repentance and faith and walking through them pearly gates!

    So while we do need to be careful how we use a verse like this, I think it is still a legitimate way to encourage believers today, especially if (as we have done) you include the rest of the sentence, ‘If you seek me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart’.

    In my experience (and I have had a lot recently) anyone who has done Hermenutics 101 feels they have a right to have a pop at Christians using this verse. Most hermeneutics teachers seem to use this verse as a classic of it’s kind; a common exegetical error. I disagree!

    Thanks for the comment, though and please order me half a dozen of those mugs; in Sunderland, we need all the hope we can lay our hands on!

  2. Forgive my ignorance, but surely, on that premise, we might as well not apply any of the bible to our lives as it is all written historically and to the people of that time? Amanda

  3. Thanks for the comment, Dave. I thoroughly agree with you that this whole passage does prefigure the New Testament promises, but we’ll have to disagree about whether it is appropriate to extract this segment and put it on a mug or church entrance.

    Amanda, we always have to read Scripture in context and understand it from the background against which it was written. Above all, this means reading it in the large chunks (a technical term used by those of us who have done hermenuetics 101 🙂 ) that it was originally written in. The message in Jeremiah is a complex one that shows both the mercy and justice of God; but this only emerges if you read the context.

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