But now thus says the Lord, 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. 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.
Isaiah 43:1-3a (ESV)
The New Year has started, and already, the new has just about worn off. The celebrations are over. Time off from work is used up. School is in session. Life goes on as it always has. But should it? Has anyone ever actually succeeded in completing a New Year’s resolution? Should we just “keep on keepin’ on” as we’ve always done? I’ve struggled with that question a great deal recently, mostly because the pathway I am on is not one I particularly like. When life is floating along as I wish, I seldom worry if I’m headed in the right direction, but maybe I should. Complacency is the anesthetic that makes possible the meaninglessness of a comfortable and pleasant living death.
In the passage above, Isaiah was speaking to the Israelites, proclaiming God’s promise of redemption and salvation. It was a message the Israelites desperately needed. When Isaiah spoke this prophecy, the northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to Assyria, and the Assyrians were considering Judah in the south for its next conquest. The Israelites would were defeated and fearful, certain their God had abandoned them.
It’s revealing that the Israelites were worried about God’s faithfulness when they themselves had so often proven to be faithless. Looking at their history, we find periods of profound faithfulness and devotion, but not as many as we might expect. We also see periods of disobedience, as well as periods of out and out rebellion against God. Yet, through the prophet Isaiah, God promises that He has not abandoned them, He is with them, and He will save them. He has called them by name.
Remember back in Genesis when God had Adam name the animals? To name something was to know its essence. That is why God did not give His name, for He was unknowable, (and indeed, for all that has been revealed through the centuries, the Triune God remains a mystery in myriad ways). Think of the richness, the promise, the comfort of God’s word, “I have called you by name, and you are Mine.” I know you, Israel, from before you were born, and you belong to Me. How potent that promise would have been in the face of Assyria’s victory over Israel. You are Mine, Jacob. You do not belong to Assyria and its king.
My point is this: the Jews were in a world of hurt that they had brought upon themselves, and in the midst of that particularly acute form of suffering, God sent the promise through Isaiah. Assyria may have carried the day by all visible standards – celebrated military victory, and brought the Jews into slavery under them – but all that power and might were just props for the drama between God and His people, His stiff-necked people who so often disobeyed and rebelled.
There is no doubt in my mind that God has frowned over me and murmured, you, My child, are one stiff-necked woman who fits right in with My stiff-necked people. Yet, in the face of my disobedience and rebellion, my stiff-necked determination to have my own way, He knows me. He calls my name and reminds me that I belong to Him. So it is with all of His children. He knows us. He unceasingly calls us by name and claims us as His own.
The deep waters of life are seldom the flood tides that flow over our lands, as traumatic as that truly is. The deep waters more often are those places to which we wander in curiosity, perhaps in wanting and desire, that require us to turn away from our God. Many of the attractions that draw us appear innocuous enough, hardly dangerous, but as we meander along our way, we begin to realize turbulent waters are rising, fires are breaking out, and suddenly, we’re wondering, “how did I get here?”
Russian theologian Vladimir Lossky (d. 1958) wrote, “In Christ, a man’s life can always begin afresh, however burdened with sin. A man can always surrender his life to Christ, so that He may restore it to him, liberated and whole.”
Throughout our lives, the world invites us to roam and explore and enjoy. When we look up and discover we’ve been conquered by the Assyrians, lost and far away from Christ, our God redeems us – buys us back from Assyria – and calls us by name to come to Him where we belong. Yet again, we begin afresh, the heavy weight of accumulated sin collected in our ramblings is lifted, and Christ restores us, not to who we were, but to who He created us to be. He redeems us, liberates us, and makes us whole, the very thing we thought we’d find when collecting the illusions and trinkets that pave the path to flood and flame.
The key to the restoration of which Lossky speaks is surrendering to Christ. The push and pull of our desires and plans versus surrendering to Christ and dying to self are exhausting. Too often, only when we know ourselves to be captured by Assyria do we listen for God to call our name and reassure us that we belong to Him. For most of us, we only surrender to Christ under the duress of the flood and fire threatening to overwhelm us. And still, God says, “I have redeemed you and called you by name; you are Mine. I am your Savior.”
Having looked backward and assessed the crooked path on which I ambled until lost, the only feasible choice is to surrender to Christ, however uneasily. In just a few days, I have failed too many times to count. I want to be set free. I want to be made whole. I do not want to surrender. It is the human conundrum. I want Christ – but on my own terms and with little cost to me. If this is you, then be still and listen. Your God is calling your name. He knows you, knows where you are, and knows how to restore your life and set you free. Every day, you have a fresh start in Christ, the opportunity to surrender again. And again. And again…
We belong to Him. Thanks be to God!
In Christ –