“A Better Plan?”
There’s something about human nature that loves shortcuts. There are endless lists of lifehacks on the internet to make life easier and more efficient. The mantra “work smarter, not harder” is not without merit. If something is equally effective when done in a more efficient manner, there seems little good reason to press on with the more difficult path.
Yet there is a fine line between finding true, helpful shortcuts and falling prey to modern-day snake oil salesmen. Unfortunately, there’s still no pill that undoes the need for a balanced diet and exercise. As of yet, a process for instantly downloading decades of education into our brains has not been found. Becoming like Jesus still takes what Eugene Peterson called a “long obedience in the same direction”; there is no shortcut to spiritual maturity.
With the exile bearing down on them in this chapter, God’s people believe they have found a shortcut, a loophole to escape 70 years in Babylon. If they head off to the prosperous land of Egypt, they think they can avoid the exile to Babylon and enjoy the abundance of life in Egypt, avoiding the war and famine they know is coming their way. To their credit, they decide to run this plan by God via the prophet Jeremiah. The response comes back, making clear their shortcut isn’t the flawless plan they hoped it was. In fact, God makes it clear that going to Egypt is a very bad plan. Exile will not be pleasant, but it is God’s will and way for them. God is going to use exile to shape them into the people he desires them to become.
Jeremiah makes it clear that sometimes God calls us into difficult situations because, through them, we are refined and molded. Beware of anyone who sells easy shortcuts to following the way of Jesus. We are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus along the narrow path. It is under the weight of the cross along that narrow way—when we go the way God has invited us to go, to places and people God has called us—that we find life. Even when it is difficult, when we follow the way of Jesus, we find an easy yoke and a light burden. God knows better than us the way to abundant life; sometimes it is not in the obvious places, but in the places we least want to go. For God is often at work in the hard places, and we’re invited to join him there.