***The following views are personal and not the views of Kaleo Church.
Going through the book of Isaiah this year has been profound for me, to say the least. So many phrases and things about God stand out. Yet, the one thing that continues to stand out throughout the book of Isaiah is a repetitive pattern that is inescapable. Over and over Isaiah looks at the rebellious and suffering people of Judah and commands them to “Fear not.” The people of Judah have been sent into exile because of their rebellion. They have been pushed around and abused by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. They have watched loved ones suffer and die. They have watched almost everything dear to their heart be ripped away. So the call to “fear not” is one that would on one hand be comforting, but on the other hand, be difficult to believe.
I mean, where is God in all of this? If they are God’s chosen people, where is he in all this devastation? Well, as good of a question as that may be, the people of Judah landed themselves in exile. They chose to worship idols (ch. 41-44) and had ignored God and his commandments. But, the God of grace who called them to himself, the God of grace who sent them into exile as a means of fatherly discipline, is the same God of grace who is going to give them the remedy to their fears. You see, the things we fear often expose what it is we love most. For some it’s the Covid 19 (Coronavirus) scare. For some it’s the future of their kids and grandkids. For others it’s the 401k. I have come to see through Isaiah that not only do our fears expose what we love, but where we turn in our fears teaches us what or whom we trust. So, what are your fears teaching you about what or whom you love and trust?
Judah was always looking to places other than their God to ease their fears. They would look to Egypt for help; the same people that once enslaved them. But God’s remedy to our fears is what we all already know deep down. God’s remedy is himself. Almost every time that Isaiah commands Judah to “Fear not,” is followed by the command to “Behold!” There are about 50 examples of this , “Fear not…Behold” construction, but one of my favorites has been this one:
“…you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off’; fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Behold, all who are incensed against you shall be put to shame and confounded; those who strive against you shall be as nothing and shall perish.” (Isaiah 41:9-11)
God is trying to show his people that he is the sovereign one who cares greatly for his people. He is showing that he is the One who saved them from Egypt, sent them into exile for their good, and will save them out of exile again. They need not fear but need to behold him. The question we must ask is, “Do we behold the Sovereign God of the universe in our fears, or is it a mere theological category we say we believe?” Does the news of the Coronavirus lead us to a place that really believes that if God wants us to have it, he will have his way? Do we believe that if God spares us from it, it is because he is sovereign? I am not at all against wise practices like hand washing and all that, but do we truly behold God in our fears? Or do our onlooking neighbors see mass hysteria in our eyes and a lack of trust in the God we claim to trust?
Maybe you are humble enough to answer with an honest, “No, I don’t trust God.” Well let me assure you, that’s a great start. That’s what God wanted from the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day. He wanted them to stop saying they loved him and trusted him when they didn’t (42:18-20). And when we can come to him honestly in our fears, he doesn’t condemn us but commands us to “Behold.” In Isaiah 42-43, Isaiah introduces us to the only Savior there is when we are afraid. Isaiah introduces us to the Servant of God who would one day come to make things right. And the first word he uses to introduce him is, “Behold” (Isa. 42:1). He wants us to behold Jesus, the one who is coming to quiet our fears and make the world right (42:1-3). He wants us to behold the Servant who gives breath to every single human (42:5). This is the same Servant who would be crushed for all the times we have feared things and not trusted him (52:13-53:12).
So, whether it’s the flu, Mad-cow disease, Y2K, Sars, Bird-flu, Swine-flu, Ebola, Covid 19, etc., your God is both the Sovereign ruler of the universe and the loving God who stepped down into the sickness of a sin-filled world to show us that he is trustworthy. Let these words comfort you and help you behold him:
“Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for you life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring fro the east, and from the west I will gather you.” (Isaiah 43:4-5)
What should our response be in the midst of a fear-driven culture confronted with something like Covid 19? I personally have spent a lot of time on the phone with people from the church I serve at this week. Some of my questions have been, “Are we as appalled by sin as we are by Covid 19? Are we willing to love our neighbors in this season or do we hide out like the pre-Pentecost disciples? Do we truly have an answer of hope or are we showing that God is a mere theological construct rather than a person we trust? I fear a lot of things but I really am fighting to lead my family and the church in a way of trusting God above all else.
Scott Sauls gives a potential answer to what it looks like to live as a follower of Jesus right now: “ Tracing even further back to the first three centuries A.D., we can draw inspiration from how Christians responded to the plague in Rome. As Roman citizens shielded themselves from contagion by sending their own sick relatives into the streets, it was Christians who went into the streets to retrieve them, tend to their needs and in many cases, welcome them into their homes so they could die with dignity. It is for reasons like these that one emperor whose agenda included exterminating all Christians from Rome through religious persecution and genocide conceded in a letter to a friend that he could not stop the rapid growth of the Christian “sect” because Christians treated Rome’s poor, sick, and vulnerable with more care and compassion than Rome did.”