The Lord said, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” (Jeremiah 29.11) The Bible

June 2009

“The boys both have chicken pox!” There was a mixture of triumph and weariness in Jenny’s voice. Two little boys with chicken pox can be quite wearing. And yet, she had no one to blame but herself! On learning that Isobel and Nathan had chicken pox, she arranged for the boys to play with the infected children. In that free-sharing environment, even comforters were shared. Chicken pox is so highly infectious that you only need to be in the same room as an infected person for 15 minutes, so after their playtime, the boys were pretty well guaranteed to catch the disease. Apparently, the infectious stage lasts from 2 days before the first spots appear to when the spots crust over.

What kind of Mother subjects her children to the ravages of illness? As a result of being infected, the boys are feeling miserable and very itchy. I guess they don’t know that the infection was deliberate, but how would they feel if they learnt that their beloved Mummy was the cause of their misery? Just at the moment, if they were able to articulate their feelings, how would they feel about their mother’s love and commitment to them? Would they translate their current circumstances into an awareness of a deep and forward looking love?

Chicken pox is so infectious; most of us will contract it at some stage of our life. It is almost always milder in infants and children than in adults, and of some danger to pregnant mothers. Jenny has followed a time-honoured tradition of exposing her children to the infection at an early stage so that the suffering and damage will be minimised. It also means that she was able to quarantine her children at an early stage, minimising risk to others who might get infected. The boys should end up with immunity to chicken pox and a resistance to shingles. Overall, the boys will be better off in the long run, but it is unlikely that they would thank Jenny for their current state.

Of course, the decision to expose them to the infection wasn’t without cost to Jenny. Restless nights, grumpy days, itchy spots, application of cream; seemingly unending days of intense pressure as the boys’ disease progressed. Tom at least was able to go to work, but Jenny was faced with the needs of her boys 24 hours a day. It was never going to be an easy option. What kind of Mother subjects her children to the ravages of illness? In this case, a deeply caring Mother, whose love looks ahead, and who is willing to bear the cost in order to help her children in the longer run.

No analogy is perfect, but here is a picture of God’s activity. There are plenty of times when it seems everything is going against us. Does God actually care? What kind of God allows this to happen? Jeremiah was called to declare God’s judgement on a disobedient people, led into exile for their many sins. Yet suddenly God promises that when the 70 years of exile are up, He will come to his people, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ” (Jeremiah 29.11). Jesus likewise looks to the longer term; just before his death on the cross, he promises, “You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16.20). This plan was not without cost to God; bringing home his disciples meant the death of Jesus on the cross, but it is in this anguish and pain at the heart of the Godhead that we find the love of God for us; “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3.16). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. ” (1 John 3.16). It is hard to see the outcome of the present day; we have but finite minds, but trust and faith, and our past experience of the goodness of God should lead us to trust not just that God may deliver us from evil, but that he may change and transform us and the world about us through this evil. Still, in all that we suffer, his plan for us is a plan to prosper, a plan for hope and a future.

I pray that you may remember the love of God, the self-sacrificing love of God, the costly love of God, the triumphing love of God in all that you face, and may know that love for good.

Your servant in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Simon Cox.