“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.”Isaiah 43:2
I’ve been thinking a lot about these words recently. I hadn’t planned on it. I never meant to. I didn’t intentionally turn to them as if, as life happened, they came to mind and I sought them out. Instead, there they were, popping up in the regular cycle of a reading plan someone else put together. And now I can’t get them out of my head.
For our family, it feels like we are in a season of “floods and fires” that swept up around us with all the speed and intensity of literal floods and fires. While anticipated, the passing this past week of Ang’s mother, Jean Bryer, has been, nevertheless, a shock. After all, can you ever really be prepared to say goodbye to someone you love? Late night runs to the hospital with my own mother and a pending surgery of my own in the midst of ongoing needs within our community and beyond, it can feel at times like the water is rising up around my neck or that fire is licking up around me. It is easy to identify with the problem Isaiah is describing.
But there is also the promise and the possibility.
Isaiah promises that when we find ourselves passing through the floods and fires of life we will not be alone. Grief and challenge has a way of isolating us and making us feel alone. And yet he promises that in these times we are not nor will not be abandoned for God will be and is even now with us. More than this, he is not simply with us in the sense of standing on the sidelines or waiting on the other side of them at the finish line. Instead, he is with us in the midst of them. And he promises that the floods and fires will not be the end. They – death and destruction – will not be the final word, for they will not wash us away or so consume us that nothing remains. Instead, the floods and the fires we face can be like the floods and fires the people of Israel experienced in the Exodus. They can become for us, not a place of death and destruction, but of life and transformation. As the people in the Exodus passed through the floods and the fires they were transformed from a group of nameless, distant, and disconnected slaves into a nation of connected and free men and women who bore God’s name. In the same way, he promises that he will take us and use even these experiences to renew and transform us more and more into the children he has called us to be. This is the promise and the possibility God presents us with in these moments.
Floods and fires. We all are aware of the problem from time to time. In those times, may God help us to know the promise and the possibility that is present in them as well.
- Joe Welty