Read Isaiah 43:1-5
Extension, again?!? On one level, we know why it’s necessary. We know why it’s vital. But we’re beginning to feel exhausted.
That comes as no surprise, because some of the most basic elements of our lives are now being tested. According to some psychologists, there are three elements that contribute to our sense of well-being and meaning. Firstly, we have a stable and positive view of ourselves – we have inherent worth, and we are competent. We can generally handle life and take care of ourselves. Secondly, we see the world as generally benevolent. In other words, it is mainly populated by people we can count on. When I go to the supermarket, for instance, unless given clear evidence to the contrary, I do not normally think the cashier is plotting to cheat me of my money. Thirdly, we believe the world to be mostly predictable. We like a sense of order in our lives – knowing that the sun will rise and set every day, that Sunday morning means going to church, and so on. When these are upset, we feel especially vulnerable, as they make life difficult to comprehend.
That’s what Covid-19 does. When the virus picks off people seemingly at random, and when brilliant scientists still struggle to know how the virus works exactly – it upsets our view of ourselves as worthy and competent. Furthermore, the virus causes us to be suspicious of each other, especially when we see someone leaving their homes – “does he have a valid reason for going out?” We immediately think. We are less likely to see our neighbours through benevolent eyes. And the virus has overturned our lives – our futures are no longer predictable, and even on the level of geo-politics, the old order of things seems to be gone. It is no wonder our sense of well-being is at risk.
Israel’s sense of well-being is at risk. These words are heard in the midst of their exile, and it is in exile where Israel’s identity feels as if it’s being dissolved. I thought we were God’s treasured possession? I thought we were called to be blessed and be a blessing? But now their future prospects look dim. The most basic elements of their identity are being stripped. Their very existence is at stake. And so they feel vulnerable. Life is difficult to comprehend, and perhaps hardly even worth living for.
And it is to this deep sense of vulnerability that God speaks. He says twice: “Do not fear” (v.1, 5). Why? In verse 1, the LORD tells us. He holds us in his hands. Just as the LORD shaped the physical universe, so he has reshaped these group of ragtag people into his holy nation. And what he did with Israel, he does with the church. Just as a potter carefully shapes everything in his hands, so the Lord carefully ensures he is making something that matches his specifications. And God doesn’t just form and shape us, he’s called us by name. He has summoned us and reminded us: we belong to him.
Furthermore, in verse 2, God assures us he will cover us. Back in verse 1, the Hebrew word translated “redeemed” here is slightly different from the word normally translated as such. Here it indicates the kinsman-redeemer, one who ensures that a helpless relative is cared and provided for. That’s what God does. The fire and water denote the threats and tribulations God’s people are facing. Yet God declares he will walk with us through the waters and the fire. The waters will soak us, but it will not drown us. The fire will cause us to sweat, and there are times it will cause us to stagger, but it will not consume us.
And notice why he does this. In verse 4, he says it simply. “I love you!” That’s it! For “you are precious and honoured in my sight”. And he does this also because, verse 3, that’s the kind of God he is! He’s always been Holy. He’s always been the Saviour. He delivered them out of Egypt, and he made an exchange by sending a Substitute. Wasn’t there deliverance and substitution with Abraham and Isaac? Wasn’t there deliverance and substitution in the Exodus with the Passover? What God is saying is that in one sense, he is utterly predictable. He always acts like a Holy, Saving God. For where else do we see deliverance and substitution? In Jesus Christ himself, our very Ransom.
And so this is what Isaiah 43:1-5 tells us. We don’t have to create our own self-worth. God has given us our self-worth. And we can see him not just as generally benevolent, but always so. He is someone we can always trust. And he is predictable. There can be a sense of order to our world, because of the reality of who God is. His character never, ever changes. It is utterly predictable.
Make no mistake, Covid-19 has laid a heavy burden on our mental health, and indeed our very souls. We’ve been left vulnerable as our very sense of well-being is being stretched like never before. But praise God, in Christ, there is redemption. There is an anchor for our souls. There is a place where our very being can be restored to wholeness. There is a future to look forward to. Praise Him, and do not be afraid.
- As we begin to feel exhausted and hopeless, that we would lean on the God who formed us, loves us, and will walk with us through fire and water.
- For all those who are facing mental health issues, that they would be adequately cared for, and during this time, the Lord will protect them and give them what they need.