I was going to follow up my post on Does God Care? yesterday, but at 3 am my chronically-injured left foot invented a creative new way to hurt, and I didn’t get any more sleep than night. Yesterday was a very tired day for me.
Still I made progress on a couple important projects, and I spent time with family members and a friend who’s going through struggles of his own. My friend’s perspective was telling: “These are first-world problems. I’m not in a refugee camp. There aren’t any bombs falling nearby. I know where my next meal is coming from.”
Ralph H. and Isaiah 40
He’s right, yet there’s another perspective that’s been even more helpful to me lately. It’s at the end of Isaiah 40, which may be my all-time favorite passage, not just in the Bible but in all of literature.
It reminds me of Ralph H, for one thing. This goes back decades. I was in my mid-20s, Ralph was in his 60s or 70s. He had been notorious as the town drunk, but before I was old enough to know him that way, Jesus Christ had gotten hold of his life. I never knew him as anything but a pillar of the church, a man who loved Jesus with all his heart.
The effects of his drinking were apparent, though, in the cravat he always wore around his throat, to cover what I think must have been something like a permanent tracheotomy. He had had his larynx removed due to cancer. To speak, he used the technique of swallowing air and vocalizing as he released it in a controlled belch.
It sounds awful, and yet I’ll never forget the light in his eyes the night I gave an evening sermon on Isaiah 40. He came up to me afterward and told me in his very halting, guttural way, “Life began … for me … at forty … too.” I wondered, Is he telling me that he was forty years old when he turned to Christ? But he went on to say, “It was reading … Isaiah 40 … that led me to … turn my life … to Jesus Christ.”
When he passed away several years later, the church couldn’t begin to hold all the people who came for his memorial service—people whose lives he had touched after turning his life over to Christ.
Comfort and Strength In the Knowledge of God
So I have good memories associated with this chapter, but I’m sure it would have been a favorite even without that. It begins in comfort, proceeds through a series of strong reminders of who God is, and ends with strength.
The other day I reached it in my Bible-in-a-year plan, and I had one of those enlightening experiences of discovering something new in the Bible, that had really been there all along. You may remember the question I raised a few days ago—the question I’ve been battling with in the Psalms and in prayer: is God really there for me? Is he really going to come through?
This is what I discovered at the end of the fortieth chapter of Isaiah. First, there’s the question:
Why do you say, O Jacob,
And speak, O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord,
And my just claim is passed over by my God”?
That was exactly what I’d been asking. Is God paying attention? Is he really doing what’s right for me? When will he start making things go better for me again? When will things get easier?
I kept reading.
Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
The Real Promise God Makes
The promise there, I suddenly realized, isn’t rest. It’s strength, specifically the strength to continue, to endure.
I thought about the things I wrote about last time, and I said to myself, You know, based on what researchers say about stress and its effects, I should almost be in the hospital right now, but I’m making it. I’m tired sometimes, but I’m pressing on with real joy. [That’s a biblical word that’s becoming almost archaic now, but it’s the right one here.] I’m smiling (most of the time) and I’m filled with hope for good things to come. That’s exactly what God said in this passage he would do for me.
God isn’t passing over my just claim. My ways aren’t hidden from him. He is not hiding. He may not be giving me rest from the challenges, but he’s certainly giving me strength to make it through.
Does God care? Yes! He’s demonstrating his goodness, not by making my life easier, but by making me better: stronger, more patient, more empathetic and compassionate.
There are New Testament implications to this that my friend brought up yesterday, from Romans 5 through Romans 8:28, and in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians. There’s also a promise of rest in the Bible, but it’s a different promise in a different context. I’ll share more on that soon.