The Most Popular Verse in the Bible and how it got there
You know what the most popular verse is in the Bible?
Using the power of Google let's chart the rise of Jeremiah 29 in our modern culture. It began shortly after a historic presidential election.
The Data starts in 2008
Shortly after the General Election in November 2008 a very peculiar Google search trend began to emerge. A revival of sorts was bubbling and throughout the next 8 years, it would result in an explosion of marketable proportions.
In November 2008 no one would have guessed that a single verse would become such a marketing vehicle. It would go on to adorn journal covers, wall art, coffee mugs, and other religious trinkets.
Jeremiah 29:11 has become an oft-quoted and more oft-misunderstood verse since it splashed on the digital conscience of saints around the globe. Stripped of its context, the verse is as comforting as a bowl of hot oatmeal. But it is that context that brings the verse its true importance.
Google Doesn't Lie
I always find it fishy when I hear the same exact verse thrown around in multiple contexts by various groups of Christians. There is no way that everyone can be studying the same verse simultaneously, right?
I have heard more people claim the promises of Jeremiah 29:11 in recent memory than the utterance of John 3:16. Of course, my ears tend to perk up at trends and I do admit to being fallible, so I wanted to check my research. Here are some results straight from the world's largest search engine:
Search trends for "Jeremiah 29 11"
Search trends for "I know the plans I have for you"
Both charts show a steady increase in user queries beginning around November 2007 and taking off a year later in 2008. The trends were noticeable enough for the marketers to pounce and books, trinkets and other paraphernalia flooded stores. Though the verse has not reached the levels of Jabez's prayer, its cultural significance has caused its misappropriation.
What Does the verse really mean?
I highly recommend you read Chris Blumhofer's article on Jeremiah 29:11. He explains it in better detail than I can in this space.
The TL;DR version is this: A false prophet has told exiles about this God-provided, get-out-of- Babylon free card that is there swift coming destiny. It made the false prophet very popular because the oppressed and exiled people wanted to go home to Jerusalem.
The people believed in this message of false hope and Jeremiah had to come along and correct them. Jeremiah did agree with one thing the false prophet had to say. It was that God would work out his plan of deliverance. They just disagreed on the timetable.
Jeremiah's version of the story ended up being the correct one. The people hearing the message didn't see the fulfillment of the promise.
The good news the false prophet had certainly brought hope to a desperate people. They latched onto the message and maybe even smiled a little more when they thought about it. But false hope is a terrible thing.
How Does a Verse become so popular?
People have a long history of latching onto to the parts of a message while dumping the rest. We love to hear that "You've just won a million dollars" and we conveniently toss aside the oppressive strings now attached to our hips.
In desperate times verses and messages of hope will stick out. We will grab on to them because we draw strength from their message. I think this is why verses peak in Christian pop-culture. We desperately want a message of hope and to know that we are going to be ok.
I am a complete advocate of such thinking...as long as we don't abuse the boundaries of the verses.
Holding on to the hope that God has a plan for your life is perfectly fine, but only with the understanding that his sovereignty usurps our comfort. His plan may or may not include our personal prosperity. It may include a continued exile.
But why were we so hopeless in 2008?
I can think of two things that happened in 2008 that got American Christians in an eschatological tizzy: The election of President Barrack Obama and the economic crash.
The ultra-conservative evangelical Christian lost two positions of power that year, the White House and their money. Perhaps this is why they felt so hopeless and they searched for some solace from the Scriptures.
Severe loss will trigger destitution and desperation. Marketers will be there to sell inscribed baubles to keep hope alive and keep the money rolling in. It is a shame that we put more faith in a coffee mug than the whole council of God. But alas, that is why Empty Church is here.
Exploring the implications of technology in the lives of God’s people. It is more Black Mirror and Twilight Zone than light shows, powerpoints, and webcasts.