Jeremiah: A Lesson for the Disappointed

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I have in my possession all eight volumes of Rivingtons first edition of Cardinal Newman’s Parochial and Plain Sermons. Published in 1869, they contain the extant collection of sermons preached by John Henry Newman at St. Mary’s church, Oxford in the 1840s. 

Newman was an early influence on my spiritual life, and when researching this blog on the theme of disappointment I turned to him for inspiration. Newman entitled his sermon on Jeremiah A Lesson for the Disappointed. In so doing, I rediscovered that frustration was a major part of Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet. Indeed, Newman remarked that Jeremiah's life may be summed up in three words: good hope, labour and disappointment.

“Before I formed thee, I knew thee” God told Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5). Due to this closeness to God, Jeremiah had more energy and enthusiasm than any of the other Old Testament prophets. Yet he was met with disappointment at every twist and turn of his career, hence why he is also called “the weeping prophet."

Jeremiah was active at a time when the Jews were being led into captivity. Yet he preached that from this national disaster some good would come, and there was hope in the midst of suffering.  I have long thought that a life without something to look forward to (however seemingly small or insignificant to others) is not worth living.  Hope was of course the last - and the greatest - spirit left at the bottom of Pandora’s Box in Greek mythology. It was hope in the future Messiah that Jeremiah prefigured, the good shepherd, the righteous branch of the line of David, Israel’s Redeemer - and ours too. 

 “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called : the Lord our Righteous Branch” wrote Jeremiah (Jer. 23:6). It was at the time of his greatest despair that Jeremiah was told by God: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  Yet this passage tells us more about God than it does his suffering servant and messenger of hope. God is clearly shown as a God of love who cares about Jeremiah and his people. True, God’s work has purpose and he acts in judgement over the sins of Israel, but that is the cyclic nature of collective and personal karma manifesting in this imperfect world, a world inhabited by unseen forces and entities of ill will who can be manipulated by others against God’s purposes for their own selfish ends.

Such was the case with the great Assyrian and Babylonian kings, whose magicians and priests employed the darkest magic to override the processes of free thought and free will in order to bend others to their nefarious needs. Yet the God of Israel always acts in the best interests of those who believe and trust in him. He kept his promises to the people spoken in the midst of judgment against their infidelity, and guaranteed their future.

If we reflect on the meaning of the Bible when applying it to our own personal lives, as we must, we should draw comfort from the fact that others have walked the same path ahead of us. It is a well worn route and no random sheep track on the mountain, though its twists and turns often resemble one. Thus, I draw comfort from the fact that despite a blockage being placed upon my writing career from artful forces determined to frustrate and stymie what I was put here to do - and despite the arrogance and conceit of an insidious opponent – there is nothing that can stand in the way of God’s long term plans. 

If we think about it, the written word or work of art always outlasts the individual. Just like Jeremiah, who faced all the terrible and malignant forces that could be aligned against him, it was his message and philosophy of God that triumphed. We all make mistakes, but unlike man the God of Jeremiah is just and forgiving. Most tellingly, he is the God of Creation from whence all temporal and intemporal powers emanated – and to whom they must return, chastened and reformed, if they are not to suffer the second death. 

So it is that I, like so many others before me, must accept and let things be. We must do that which we are called to do, and leave the rest in the hands of God, placing our worries at the foot of the cross. Recalling Newman’s words:

“I call resignation a more blessed frame of mind than sanguine hope of present success, because it is the truer, and the more consistent with our fallen state of being, and the more improving of our hearts; and because it is that for which the most eminent servants of God have been conspicuous.”


This article is the copyright (c) of M.R. Osborne, 2022