One of the ideas that seems to have taken a backseat to our individualistic, self-centered culture is this idea of true community. We live in a world that believes that truth is relative, that what works for you doesn't have to work for me, and that our stories sometimes butt up against each other but do not necessarily meet.
Of course, we understand that there are some people we can't seem to get rid of, but that's just one of life's little annoyances.
And the problem with this is that it changes the way that we read our Bibles. It changes the way we comfort and encourage ourselves. It changes the way we let God comfort and encourage us.
Take, for example, one of the most oft-quoted passages in all of Scripture: Jeremiah 29:11.
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.
We take great comfort in these words. The Lord Himself has a plan for me. The Lord knows what He's doing, where He's leading me, what I'm going through. He is going to prosper me. He gives me hope.
But here's the thing - He's not talking about me. He's not talking about you. The word used here, as in so many other places in Scripture, is not really you.
We don't distinguish, in English, between the singular second-person and the plural second-person; to us, they are both simply you, and we are left to figure out whether it's just me or a collective we all by context. But we don't read our Bibles in context. Not in the Bible's context, anyway; only in ours. And in ours, it's never we all; it's always me.
That's tragic, I think, on many levels. Most troubling, I think, is that it gives us a distorted view of God. We start to get this idea of a God who is for me personally, who is doing something unique on an individual level, but who has seemingly forgotten or forsaken the entire idea of community in the same way that we have. This God, who throughout His entire Book is a God of community, has become our God of self.
It changes the way we read Scripture. It changes the way we feel about others. It changes the way we feel about our stories. And it changes the way we feel about God.
Think just about this passage. Think about what it means to think that God has a plan for you, specifically you. Think about the encouragement you get from thinking that these words are about the individual you. There are still so many things outside of you that don't seem to change based on this word. This world is still a mess. There are a thousand things you cannot control, a million more that don't seem to make sense. And we're left trying to stuff all these things into our smallest stories and come up with excuses or reasons why it's still okay and God is still God and I'm still amazing and there's still hope, despite all these loose threads that don't seem to be able to be woven into what we, individually are doing.
It's exhausting, really.
But now, read these words in the way in which they were written. Not that God has a plan and hope for you, but for ya'll - or us all. Think about how it changes things when it's about so much more than just you. When it's all of us. Think about the possibilities of the way that all those threads are being woven together not just for your good, but for our good. For each other's good. For the sake of the people of God, who have never been individuals but have always been communities.
Maybe this is a little thick in the English grammar. Maybe it grates against some deep-held belief you have about your individual uniqueness or your own need for hope. I'm not trying to dash that, but we have to be willing to see God for who He really is, to read the words He really gave us, and to understand what that means. And the truth is that when I'm feeling most discouraged, when I'm feeling most stressed, I take less comfort from a God who promises me it's okay despite all the evidence than I do from a God who is writing a story that is bigger than me. When life is troubling, I have to get out of my own pages and deeper into His. I'm encouraged by the fact that it's not all about me, that it's not just me and God against the world; it's God and God's people (who I happen to be one of) who are doing this thing. This real thing.
The way God's people always have. The way God's people always will.
And I don't know, I think it just goes a long way to remember that our God has always been a God of community. Our story has always been bigger than ourselves. So very, very often in the Scriptures, God is not speaking to you; He's talking to ya'll. And there's a reason for that. It's to remind us that we belong to one another, and together, we belong to Him.
With hope...and a future.