There are many things in life that baffle and trouble us. If God is almighty and all loving, why does he allow pain and suffering, evil and injustice to run riot through the world? Why does God allow us as individuals to go through so many of the things we do?
If we are to understand the trauma and trials of life, we need more than human wisdom and understanding. Abraham Lincoln once remarked: I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for the day.
Wisdom. When the Bible speaks of wisdom it speaks of the complex matrix of intelligence, knowledge and power within a moral framework working together towards a good outcome.
Wisdom is the practical side of moral goodness. Because God alone is good, and because he alone has the power always to achieve his goals, his ways are always wise. Wisdom is an essential part of God’s character.
Isaiah 42:21 through 43:7 provides us with two scenes of God’s wisdom. The first speaks of tough times and God’s justice. The second speaks of peace and contains some of the most tender words of God’s love.
The first scene portrays God’s people in exile in Babylon. Like genuine refugees today, they were rootless, homeless, and friendless in a foreign land. But far greater than their personal loss was their sense that God had deserted them. They hadn’t believed prophets like Jeremiah; rather, they had preferred to listen to the popular preachers in Jerusalem who had told them that all would be well.
But it wasn’t. In 586BC their city had been destroyed, the temple demolished, and they had been deported. In Isaiah 42:24 we read: Who gave up Jacob to the spoiler, and Israel to the robbers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, in whose ways they would not walk, and whose law they would not obey? Where was this only wise God?
Yet against all the odds, God’s ancient people survived. Indeed, no passage of the Bible expresses the renaissance of these people more clearly than Isaiah 43:1-7. It’s a picture of God’s love – an example of God’s infinite wisdom and power at work. It’s worth pausing to read it.
Which brings us to the second scene.
Fear not. Isaiah 43:1 says, This is what the Lord said, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah tells us that God took the growing embryo of our lives and shaped them according to his good and wise purposes. But more than that, he redeemed us. For even though we have denied him and sought our independence from him, he bought us, even at great cost to himself.
We find this picture emerging in the Old Testament where he rescued the slaves in Egypt and shaped them into a nation; where he returned the exiles in Babylon to Jerusalem and re-instated them as a people. But we see the greatest picture of God’s redemption when we turn to the New Testament. There we read that he has not only created us but that he has also redeemed us through the death of his one and only Son.
As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 1:18 and, especially verses 24b and 25: Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, and God’s weakness stronger than human strength. Jesus’ crucifixion seems foolish to world, but God in his infinite wisdom planned it.
Presence. God has not just redeemed his people. He promises to be personally present with us. In Isaiah 43:2 we read: When you pass through the waters I will be with you;…
It’s important to notice that God does not promise that his people will be immune from tough times. God says when not if. Furthermore he speaks of his people passing through the waters not over the waters.
For the people of Isaiah’s day it meant that God would be with them in the land of exile. For us who live on the other side of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, it’s an even richer statement, for we find that God has come amongst us in our pain and has participated in it.
This is the meaning of the manger in Bethlehem, and the cross outside Jerusalem. Christianity is not about a God who emails us sympathy notes. Rather he bore our sin and carried our sorrow. He descended to the lowest parts of the earth to rescue us. Immanuel: God is with us.
No other religion comes near this – a God who comes into a suffering world and suffers with us; a God who comes into the world and dies for us; a God who comes into the world and becomes a curse on our behalf. No other religion has even dreamed of this, let alone actioned it.
God wasn’t just satisfying some passing whim when he created and redeemed us. His plan and purpose, which he has been working out through history, is to establish a people who love him and glorify him.
© John G. Mason