Fear Not That Which is Frightening (Isaiah 43:1-3)
…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 43:1-3
As my wife settled into the oncology chair, drugs pouring into her body that would take her to the edge of death for the sake of delaying death from her Stage IV cancer, she simply said, “let’s memorize some Scripture.”
I don’t usually remember where I memorized most texts, but I’ll never forget that day or these verses. And God in his mercy gave us exactly what we needed and still need.
It begins with the impossible: fear not. How could we not fear? She carried a disease that would kill her, unless God intervened through the common grace of medicine or his miraculous touch (or both). The road to her living was paved with suffering as well, including extraordinary trauma to her body. And I couldn’t do one thing to relieve that pain or take away the disease.
Yet the command is not one based on our own strength but on what God has already done: I have redeemed you. Even better, it is a specific, very personal redemption – “you are MINE!” Is there anything better in all the universe than to hear the creator of everything say those words?
As Jesus taught us, my wife had already passed from death to life (John 5:24) and could even join with Abraham’s wife, Sarah, and not “fear anything that is frightening” (1 Peter 3:6). With God, the impossible becomes possible (Mark 10:27).
God is also kind in these verses to point out that it is ‘when’ and not ‘if’ the suffering comes that his presence is absolutely sure. Suffering is certain, and God’s help is even more certain. But it gets better than that.
The suffering has a purpose – it is for God’s glory and for our good! As Pastor John Piper helpfully pointed out in his sermon, To Him Be Glory Forevermore:
In Romans 8:18, Paul says this hope makes all the sufferings we have to experience in this life worth it: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The glory of God will be so overwhelmingly satisfying that the horrors of a long illness and a painful death will be as nothing in comparison. “For this slight momentary affliction [this whole painful life seen as momentary!] is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
In the years since I first memorized these verses I’ve met dozens of people going through extraordinary suffering – disease, death of children, long-term disability. The evil one frequently uses their circumstances to create doubts about God’s care for them. These verses from Isaiah 43 come quickly to mind in reminding brothers and sisters in Christ that God is not only powerful, he is very personally involved in their hardships.
Yes, equal to the joy of our experiencing God’s help through God’s word is pointing others to that help!
The Lord has been merciful and allowed my wife to live for nine years with Stage IV cancer. But someday my wife’s body, and mine, and yours, will succumb to something. So, whether in our living or in our dying (no matter how long and hard that process might be), point people to the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!