Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Presence’… January 13, 2016
Is what you believe about God important? Are you confident that God is infinitely wise as Article I of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles says? ‘…There is but one living and true God, everlasting,…; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness;…’
It’s easy to doubt God’s power, wisdom and goodness because we hear of the injustices, the pain and suffering in the world. Indeed, we may doubt God because of the particular trials we are going through – an unhappy marriage or a sense of personal failure. We may feel that God is not answering our prayers and so we are tempted to wonder about him.
The Israelites of whom Isaiah wrote, were in exile in Babylon. Their big question was, ‘Where is God?’ Prophets like Isaiah had warned them of God’s judgment unless they turned back to Him. However, they had listened to the popular preachers who had said all would be well. But the day did come (in 586BC) when the city and the temple were destroyed and the people were deported. Amazingly the Jewish people survived.
Isaiah 40 speaks not only of God’s power and wisdom but also of the comfort that his love and forgiveness bring when we repent. Isaiah 43:2 takes up the theme of God’s love with: When you pass through the waters I will be with you,…
God’s presence. God promised that he would be with his people even in the land of their exile. For us who live on the other side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s an even richer promise, for we now have the evidence and reality of Emmanuel, God with us in the person of Jesus Christ.
The God of the Bible doesn’t promise to lift us out of our troubles with supernatural power. Faith is not a drug by which we escape the pain and suffering of a messed up world. The God of the Bible comes amongst us in our pain and shares in it.
This is the meaning of Bethlehem’s manger and Calvary’s cross. God doesn’t simply shout his condolences from the sky or tweet us sympathy notes. In his wisdom, God bore our grief and carried our sorrow. He descended to the lowest parts of the earth and experienced death for us.
There’s no other religion like this. There are scientists and philosophers, media commentators and gurus, but not one of them has scars in their hands. When you pass through the waters I’ll be with you… is the commitment of the all-mighty, all-wise God.
And that’s not all, for Isaiah also tells us of God’s protection: When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (43:2ff).
King David had understood this when he penned the words of Psalm 23: When I pass through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, … for you are with me.
This is how the only wise God works with a fallen world. He promises his people his presence and protection. He sets a limit on anything that may destroy us. It doesn’t mean we won’t encounter tough times and it doesn’t mean we won’t experience death.
We’re not promised immunity from the floods and the fires, but we are promised a definite limit to the harm that any such experience can do to us. In Job 1:9-12 we read of the limit God placed on the action of the power of evil in Job’s life.
Yes, God sometimes allows the powers of evil to act in frightening ways – as we see when Jesus was scourged and crucified. But with Jesus’ resurrection we are assured God didn’t abandon his Son to eternal death.
Paul the apostle, in 2 Corinthians 12 tells us that he felt the pain and frustration of unanswered prayer. He experienced what he calls a ‘thorn in the flesh.’ Three times he agonized in prayer, but the thorn was not removed. He came to understood God’s mind: My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Paul looked no further. If the thorn was needed to keep him from pride or success in his own strength, so be it. God could be trusted.
Do you have that kind of confidence in God? Pray then for his grace that you may know the reality of his presence and protection. Pray that God’s Spirit will take his promise deep into your heart so that you will know how precious you are to him. He has a purpose for his world, and for each one of us.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com