Oh, how we wished that the pandemic and all its problems would burn with our 2020 calendars. Alas, it followed us into 2021, promising another roller-coaster year. How do you buckle up and ready your heart?
Most of us enjoy a good roller-coaster. The ride starts with a slow climb, followed by a sudden drop and quick turns at high speed. As you feel the wind in your hair and hear the passengers’ screams, your veins flood with adrenaline and dopamine, leaving your hands shaking and legs jittery. One group shouts “Let’s go again!” while another cries “Never again!”
What causes these two groups of people to have vastly different experiences in the same roller coaster cart? It comes down to a sense of security: the ability to trust in the ride designer and the system’s integrity. The ones who trust in the integrity of the seat belt or harness don’t fear for their safety. These passengers have peace on the track and enjoy the thrill of the ride.
The second or third round on a roller coaster is often even more enjoyable, precisely because you have come to know that you will not fall from the cart. With arms high in the air and eyes closed, you can smile wide and laugh loudly through the tight turns – once you trust the carriage and the rest in the seat belt.
2021 will be our 2nd ride in the Corona Coaster. We would have preferred a more docile track, but this is our ride for the year. How do you prepare yourself to push out the panic and enjoy the thrill that 2021 brings? Is there a harness we can strap ourselves into, to lend the sense of security we need for the months ahead?
A short phrase penned by a Jewish prophet gives us a plan. Isaiah warned the Jews that the Babylonians would lay siege and destroy Jerusalem, taking its people into exile. He promised a rough time ahead for them. The Babylonians would rip them from everything gave them a sense of belonging and security. Yet the Lord comforted the Jews with this beautiful promise – a phrase that instils comfort, safety and hope in everyone who believes.
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,Isaiah 54:10
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.
“For the mountains may depart, and the hills be removed”
The Lord warned the Judeans of catastrophic changes – both sudden and permanent. They would suffer loss. Mountains speak of safety, security and a sense of permanency. Hills bring a sense of familiarity, normality, and a sense of belonging. These significant changes create anxiety, and the sudden onset thereof brings a panic.
“my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed”
In contrast, the Lord assures them that His constant, loving nature and reliable character do not change. His steadfast love “never ceases” and is always “abounding.” (Lamentation 3:23; Psalm 145)
In particular, God’s covenantal commitment towards Judah does not change either. It cannot be removed (Numbers 21:12) and is stronger than the bond that draws a mother to her nursing child (Isaiah 49:15).
While these sudden changes create a sense of vulnerability and insecurity, the Lord assures them that His character and commitment towards them for their welfare (shalom) will never change. He is good and promised to do them good, always. Yes, even these sudden changes will work out for their welfare. (compare Romans 8:28)
“says the Lord”
The One who makes this pledge of partnership is indeed trustworthy. He is the LORD, Yahweh – “I AM THAT I AM” – the eternally existing God who never changes (Exodus 3:14; Malachi 3:6). He is all-powerful yet very personal (Isaiah 40:28-29; Psalm 113).
While everything around them changes, they the Lord invites them to rest in the truth that He does not change, nor his loving nature and covenant with them. Indeed, Yahweh has shown his goodness and faithfulness to them for generations since He first bound Himself to Abraham by covenant. Israel’s covenant God is trustworthy because of his character and power.
“who has compassion on you.”
God Almighty knows that the coming catastrophic changes would bring pain and panic. Moreover, God cares about them! Their situation moves Him with compassion so that He would show them kindness. (Compare with Christ Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Mark 1:41 etc.) What comfort these words must have brought to the vulnerable and fearful Judeans who were plucked from their familiar homelands!
a MIRROR to our society
Isaiah depicts Judah’s calamitous change as “mountains disappearing and hills being removed.” Our generation can easily identify with his passionate poetry. For years we have experienced the stormy disruptions in our social fibre, and local economies and political harmony caused by the tsunamis of globalization, technological advancement and climate change. Now, on top of that, the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating social changes, affecting economies and governments at an unparalleled pace.
These rapid changes make us feel unsafe, like foreigners in our own homeland. Like the Judeans hearing Isaiah’s words for the first time, we too need of hope, some assurance that good may come, a reason to march on and direction for the future.
a WINDOW into God’s Heart
Isaiah’s prophesy reminds us that God knows that big changes leave us vulnerable and insecure. These words reveal God’s compassion for us; his heart is moved because he identifies with us in our suffering.
A reporter asked John and Charles Wesley’s ageing mother, which of her children she loved best. She replied, “the one who needed it most at that time”. Her compassionate heart was moved with kindness to help the one who was struggling at that time. David says God’s paternal love is the same: “As a father shows compassion to his children… for he knows our frame… he remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14). God does not love us less because we struggle in our turmoil or temptation; instead, God’s fatherly love (compassion) is activated by our weakness, urging him to show us kindness. The Lord “is able to have compassion with our weaknesses… so let us boldly draw near to his throne room to receive grace [help]” (Hebrews 4:15).
Isaiah reminds us that God’s steadfast love (character) and covenant of peace (commitment for our good) is unchanging. Through all these changes, God is working out his redemptive purposes work for our good and his glory. This window into God’s heart and plans brings us much comfort.
a DOOR into God’s Kingdom
Isaiah’s prophesy acknowledged the first readers’ uncertainty and invited themto walk with God into their new world. Likewise, this prophesy shows the door into the stable and peaceful world our overwhelmed generation longs for. The Lord assures us that He is unchanging and his covenant unshakeable. Drawing close to him brings the security and familiarity that is fading in our rapidly changing context.
How do we strap ourselves in to feel safe in the 2021 roller coaster ride?
To cognitively know that “the God of the Bible is loving and does not change” does not bring the deep, lasting peace we pursue. Instead, recognising and reflecting on God’s loving-kindness and reliability in my own life (and those around me) brings the security and hope I need in this changing world. This text invites me to remember and reflect on God’s steadfast love that I have experienced and how he has faithfully intervened on my life in the past. In a rapidly changing world, I feel safe to the degree that I am rooted and grounded in God’s love and commitment to me (Ephesians 3:14-17).
My friend, strap yourself in for the thrill-ride of 2021. Throw those hands in the air and let out a shout. God is up to something great, and it will work out for your good!