The God of Rough Waters, Just a Thought…

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the water s, 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 NRSV)

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you,” promises God in the book of Isaiah, “and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you” (43:2). This is a stirring and beautiful passage. However, just what exactly is God saying here? Is God promising to give us safe passage through deep water? Or is there something very different being said by the One who is Lord of the Seas?

The first thing we see is that God has created us. “Thus says the Lord,” proclaims the prophet Isaiah, “he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel” (v. 1). Each of us is worth far more than can be measured because each of us has been created and formed in the image of God. “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you,” says God. We are created for God’s glory and formed to be his servants (vv. 4, 7). Each of us has an opportunity to bring glory to God by worshiping him, by loving one another and by using our passions and gifts to serve the world around us. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons said in the second century, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive!”

Nevertheless, we don’t live in a perfect and ideal world. Rather, the truth is that we live in a broken and fallen creation. We sin against God and each other, indulge our selfish desires and fall victim to the evil of others. Therefore, we need to be redeemed. God knows this, which is why God says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (v. 1). The Lord comes to us in Jesus Christ to buy us back from captivity to sin and rescue us from destruction and death. God’s redemptive effort isn’t easy; it costs God something. In Isaiah, the Lord says, “I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you” (v. 3). That’s a stiff price, but we know now that God is willing to pay even more. God gave the life of his one and only Son on the cross.

Therefore, we are created by God and then redeemed by God. That’s the biblical story briefly stated. Reformer John Calvin, who was born centuries ago, described the Old Testament as the story of creation and the New Testament as the story of redemption. From start to finish, the Bible speaks of a God who lives by the promise, “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” (v. 2).

From Genesis to Revelation, our God is the Lord of the Seas. Notice, however, that the Lord doesn’t promise you will never face rough waters. Being a Christian doesn’t mean cruising on an ocean voyage but living with the Lord of Rough Waters. Cruising with God doesn’t mean you’ll never get seasick. You can still be hit by an enormous surge of illness, a cold wind of betrayal, a tidal wave in the economy, or a strong current of temptation. Isaiah doesn’t guarantee our sailing will always be smooth but instead gives us the assurance that God will be with us, and we won’t be overwhelmed. No matter how rough the seas are, the Lord of Rough Waters will protect us from being drowned and destroyed.

The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once said, “If you are not happy with your life, you can change it in two ways: either improve the conditions in which you live, or improve your inner spiritual state. The first is not always possible, but the second is.” Clearly, we face many situations and conditions that we have no control over or can’t improve. Job loss, illness, car accidents, rejection by loved ones – all are storms that sweep over us from time to time, and we can do little to manage them. They threaten to overwhelm us and to drown our relationships with God and others.

Improving our inner spiritual state, on the other hand, is a change that’s always possible, with God’s help, through persistent prayer. We can pray for those who persecute us, love both God and neighbor, and work to improve the world around us. Best of all, the Lord of Rough Waters will help us in these efforts, because God’s promise is always true: “You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. […] Do not fear, for I am with you” (vv. 4-5). Waves may crash around us, but we’ll never be overwhelmed.

What rough waters are you going through right now: the rough waters of job loss, death, divorce, illness,
disease, or sin? No matter what you’re going through, I urge you simply to reach out and grasp the hand of Jesus Christ who is calling out to you above the noise of the crashing waves and clapping thunder, “Do not fear. I am with you.” Praise God for that!

Just a thought . . .
Pastor Paul