“Now, this is what the Lord says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43)
There are some passages in the Bible that speak to me more than others. This is one such passage. It reminds me that the phrase “The Authority of Scripture” is not a prescriptive concept but a relational one. If you get the balance wrong, then the Bible becomes a kind of magic spell book to blast people with.
No, as Alan Scott put it recently: “God revive your church so we know more about covenant than management, presence than program, authority than activity.” That is to say: covenant, presence and authority are relational terms.
And here’s the relationship I need in order to make sense of life.
First: it’s a God who communicates, and “this is what the Lord says.” I need ears that are open and a heart that is tuned in to what God is saying.
Second: it’s a God who restores and creates value. “I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Even if there’s a sickening quality of self-obsession in those adverts that declare “Because I’m worth it!”, there’s still something true about the sentiment! You are indeed worth it, because God says so. He summons you “by name.”
And this applies to any that you might be tempted to devalue or dismiss – someone of another class or IQ level, or religion, or race or gender. They too are worth it. They too are summoned by name.
Third, it’s a God who is with us in the hard times. He is “Emmanuel.” He never promises a trouble-free life, but he does promise an accompanied one. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
His accompaniment is like that of a coach who has gone through the race already, and knows the pitfalls and problems every step of the way. He is not daunted by the dangers nor tempted by easy-seeming shortcuts. And so “I will be with you” means, specifically, that “the rivers … will not sweep over you.”
Fourth, it’s a God of rescue. “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Every crisis is solvable. Every danger is doable. The reason for this is that not only is he present like a coach, walking me through the difficulties, but he is powerful, like a champion, a saviour. That last word is really the most important word of the whole passage. It means hero, rescuer, lifesaver, Doer. The Doer will get it done.
Yesterday, at the beach, my oldest son rescued someone from drowning. He wouldn’t want to make anything of it, so don’t tell him I told you, but reading this passage this morning, I realise just what it means to have someone there for you in the crisis, who is more equipped than you are to manage, who understands your weakness and is committed to being there for you on your behalf.