Rev. VanOverloop is pastor of Georgetown Protestant Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Michigan.
I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
What will the new year bring? What will happen in the world? Will there be war? Will there be more terrorist activity? What will happen in our congregations and in our families?
When Jeremiah was inspired to write the words of our text, the kingdom of Judah was in captivity in Babylon. To them Jeremiah is commanded by God to write. He must first correct a hope of a quick deliverance from captivity—a false hope sown by false prophets (vv. 8, 9). But whereas Jeremiah must dash this earthly hope, he keeps God’s people from falling into discouragement by encouraging them with right hopes and expectations. He gave them another reason to hope. Their—and our—hope is to be built on the simple but tremendously comforting truth that God thinks about us and toward us.
We humans find joy and comfort in knowing that someone is thinking about us. Among greeting cards there is a category that has the title “Thinking of You.” When we receive such a card or note, we experience joy and are heartened.
If we are encouraged by the thoughts of another human, then the fact that our God thinks of us is the source of tremendous encouragement. The thoughts of a human can be well-meaning and sympathetic, but they are usually unable to accomplish anything. God’s thoughts, however, have the ability to do something—and not a little. God’s thoughts are powerful and effective. God does what He thinks. Divine thoughts always become divine actions. And so His thoughts of us have a goal or end toward which they are able to bring us.
God’s people in the Babylonian captivity, and we, when burdened with difficult trials, can easily became troubled and confused. We can be fearful as we look ahead into the new year. This text directs us to a source of great comfort, namely, the fact that God is thinking thoughts of peace toward us!
God has thoughts which He thinks. God’s thoughts are always perfect, never evil. His thoughts are always before Him—He never forgets them. And His thoughts are always effective, powerfully performing whatever He thinks—never stagnant or abstract or ineffective.
God has thoughts concerning His people. As Jeremiah writes these words, he is informing the people in captivity that God has thoughts concerning them, even though they are in Babylon. They may think He has forgotten them. But never was there a time when the unchangeable God did not think about His people. Nor will there ever be such a time. At every second of every day God thinks of every one of His children. Not for one split second does God not think of His children. David writes, “I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me” (Ps. 40:17). The mind of God, whose thoughts are infinitely above ours (Is. 55:9), continuously exercises itself about His people. Never does He forget them and then have to remember them. He never has to recall any thoughts.
The God who determined all things in His eternal counsel still thinks. He is ever conscious of the thoughts of His counsel, of His eternal plan. Therefore, He is always aware of the thoughts He has concerning us. We are not to think of God’s sovereign, determinative plan as something He conceived, wrote down, then filed away, later to retrieve the necessary files when He needs them. Rather His plan is ever before His mind’s eye.
Notice that the text pictures the relationship between God’s thoughts and His people in a uniquely powerful way. God’s thoughts are not only about us, but they are toward us. This means that God’s thoughts are always leaning toward us, filled with care and love for us. Although God rules the entire universe, He never turns His thoughts away from His beloved children. They have a primacy in His thoughts. The captives who were banished in the distant land of Babylon must not think that God has forgotten them. Nor must they think that God’s thoughts are against them. God’s thoughts are toward them. While our circumstances can at times lead us to feel as if God has forgotten us or “forgotten to be gracious” (Ps. 77:7-9), our text declares the truth. And the truth is contrary to what we think or feel. God’s thoughts are always toward His people.
This implies that everything God did and is doing towards His people was and is done thoughtfully. (Remember that God’s actions are always controlled by His thoughts.) The captivity was no accident or mistake, but a determined intent and deliberate act of God. Every cross we are given to take up is perfectly planned, timed, and measured. Also every comfort is sent with loving thoughtfulness. Not fate, but wisdom and love ordered all of our life and each and every circumstance in it.
A most interesting aspect of our text is the fact that we are told that God’s thoughts are known to Himself. We don’t know God’s thoughts toward us, but He knows them. God’s thoughts are too high for us (recall the familiar words ofIsaiah 55:8, 9). His thoughts are too deep for our understanding (Ps. 77:19). It can seem to us that God’s ways for us are so complicated that they cannot be disentangled, or so difficult that they crush and destroy us. Then we are to remember that God knows His thoughts of peace toward us. We must not judge the all-knowing God in light of our ignorance and forgetfulness. Despite our ignorance, nothing can go wrong while the omniscient God rules over all. In the middle of difficult times we easily and quickly misinterpret God’s thoughts and His ways. We jump to the hasty conclusion that God does not know how hard we have it. We must learn that our worries and our fears about what God is doing in our life are based on our limited knowledge and on the folly and ineffectiveness of our thoughts. God’s ways are directed by an understanding that is infinite and perfectly wise. We ought not let our hearts be troubled concerning things that are too great for us.
Remember, too, that God’s thoughts toward us are always settled and definite. He has no questions. His purpose is settled and sure. He remembers His covenant. He knows them that are His. He is faithful to them and to His promises made to them. Because God constantly has complete knowledge of us and toward us, the psalmist writes, “Many, O Lord, my God are … thy thoughts which are to us-ward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Ps. 40:5). “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them” (Ps. 139:17)!
God’s thoughts toward His people are always “thoughts of peace.”
That God would have peace with any child of Adam can only be through the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 5:1; 8:1). God chose unto Himself a people in Christ. He redeemed them in Christ. And He always sees them in Christ. It is because of Jesus (and only because of Jesus) that God never thinks anything other than peace (such as thoughts of wrath or retribution) toward those in Christ. They are always thoughts of peace because in Christ God delights in them. He always seeks and sustains their peace.
To enforce the idea that God’s thoughts are those of peace, Jeremiah is inspired to add: “not evil.” It is the Evil One himself who always sows the thought into our minds that God is against us and that being in the Babylons of life is evil for us. However, the truth is that God’s thoughts toward us are always of peace and not evil because God justified us in Christ. Christ died, rose from the dead, ascended to God’s right hand, and now intercedes specifically for our justification (Rom. 8:33, 34). Therefore God’s thoughts cannot be evil toward us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the middle of difficult trials, we must remember that God has sent them our way. We must remember to tell ourselves often that God does not send the heavy trials upon us in anger. We may feel that God is punishing us, but the gospel of justification in the blood of Christ assures us that behind our trials are only thoughts of peace. The way we walk may seem rough, but we may be assured that it is not evil.
To allay our fears even further, the prophet declares that God’s thoughts are “to give you an expected end.” This language is a little unusual for us. It means that God’s thoughts include a future and an expectation, i.e., a hoped-for ending. This is a wonderful assurance. Whereas we see only the moment, God sees the end toward which He is directing all things. God knows “the end from the beginning,” and He declares “from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Is. 46:10). When Adam was created and then fell, God saw the end. When Christ was crucified, God knew the end. When God’s people were taken into captivity, not only had God’s thoughts determined that event, but His thoughts had also encompassed a great purpose for and a wonderful end to that event. When God brings afflictions, persecutions, or death into our lives, He knows the end.
God’s end for His people is that they altogether will stand before Him, washed in the Lamb’s blood, gathered as the body of His Son and as a glorious temple. God uses each and every event in the lives of His children to prepare them for this wonderful ending.
God’s motive in thinking toward us and in working on us is for our good (Rom. 8:28). He uses our light and momentary affliction to work for us an eternal reward (II Cor. 4:17). God sees not only the pain and grief we experience at the moment, but He also sees our future and how the present pain and sorrow will serve our future.
While we know only the weight of His rod (and it can be grievous), God knows the peaceable fruit of righteousness in those who are exercised by the rod (Heb. 12:11). Consider, when afflicted and tried, that God strips us so we can be clothed. He empties us so we can be full. He gives us sorrow for sin, so we can know Christ’s righteousness.
When saints, either in the middle of the Babylonian captivity or under the burden of a heavy cross, realize that God’s thoughts toward them are not evil but of peace, then what should be their attitude toward the trials which burden them?
First, we must strive to bow in patient submission. In the midst of our trials, let us bow before Him who does all things in perfect wisdom and infinite love for His own. Bow before what He sends because He is leading us through it to spiritual health and strength, to spiritual wealth, and to endless joy.
Second, let us strive to have good hope and great expectation. The death of our Savior means the end of all evil to God’s children. We need never fear when we look at present trials or at the future coming of Antichrist. Our attitude ought to be not only one of enduring the will of God for us, but also of high expectation (and corresponding joy). God promises a good end, so we have reason to expect good to come to us from God.
Also, let us strive to see that we have reason to rejoice. We know that the One in control of absolutely everything in our life is our Father! He loves us! It is by abiding in God’s love that we have joy and peace!
And we must strive to realize that there is a wonderful future for us—a heavenly home being prepared for us. There we will know perfect happiness. Our “expectation is from him” (Ps. 62:5). While the unbeliever has reason to fear his future, we can long for it. We can even pray, “Come, Lord Jesus; come quickly!”
When troubled by the hard trials of life, we must look up. Look up and consider God’s thoughts. His thoughts are toward us. They are not evil. They are thoughts of peace. And He always knows the thoughts that He thinks about us and toward us. Don’t fret about the possible events of 2003. Rest in His thoughts and rejoice!