GOD, WATER AND LIFE
SEPTEMBER 20, 2004
Isaiah 35:1-7 “Streams in the Desert”
One of the harshest truths that we ever learn is that suffering and difficult times is a part of life. No one can go through life without experiencing suffering in some shape or form.
The once popular television program, “Hee Haw” dealt with suffering on a weekly basis. Several of the main characters would gather for a game of suffering one-up-manship. The refrain between each story of suffering went like this:
Gloom, despair, and agony on me,
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If I had no bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair, and agony on me.
My purpose is not to speech on what needs to be done in order to end human suffering—tempting as this may be because it is an election year. Rather, by meditating on this passage of Isaiah, we can form a clearer understanding of suffering’s effect upon our lives, and allow God to make it a positive, creative experience in our lives.
LIFE IN THE DESERT
Life was difficult for the people of Israel. Wars were a constant reality in their lives. Wars bring with them not only bloodshed, but also destruction—uprooted crops and slaughtered livestock. Hunger, poverty, and disease were common themes of life. The prophet Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel in the middle of these struggles and suffering. His purpose is to help them see God and have hope.
Isaiah does not prophesize a quick end to Israel’s suffering. Most of us have come to the realization that God does not remove all of our problems that moment we enter into God’s presence and announce, “Hey, God, I’m hurting down here.” Isaiah seeks to assure Israel that God is present in their suffering; God has not deserted them. When our world is crashing in around us, everything is out of control and we fear for our survival, we sometimes doubt God’s presence. This passage speaks the same message to us as it did to the people of Israel—God has not deserted us. God is present in the middle of our situations and suffering.
Suffering and difficult times mold and shape us. They develop within us a certain resiliency and toughness. Suffering also smoothes off the rough edges of our lives and makes us more compassionate toward others—more human. Though we may envy people whom we think live charmed lives (all of us have encountered a few even if they have been on television, or in movies), we never respect or admire them. They are not the type of people we want to be.
Suffering can be a creative element in our lives. Other prophets like Jeremiah, Zechariah and Malachi all speak of God’s refining fire. God uses suffering and difficult times to mold us into God’s people, and shape us into God’s image.
Paul makes a bold statement in his letter to the Romans he states that, “All things happen for the good.” Some people may argue with this statement. They point to the tragedy of a small girl crushed by a tree that was pushed down by Ivan’s wins. They look at the death of a promising high school athlete because of a drunk driver, and they ask, “How is this good?” I must confess that I do not know. I do know, however, that we worship a God who took the greatest evil, the death of God’s son, and turned it into the greatest good, the gift of salvation for all humankind. If God has done that, then God can create good out of the tragedies of our lives.
STREAMS IN THE DESERT—GOD’S PROMISE
The prophet Isaiah speaks words of hope to the people of Israel. The desert shall burst into bloom like a crocus, water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert, and the burning sand will become a pool. These are images of hope to a people dried up by pain and suffering.
Hope is an essential quality of life. Life—abundant life—is mutated into mere existence at its absence. Perhaps you have encountered a person devoid of hope—you may have even been that person. Such a person goes through the motions of life, but is not living. There is a profound emptiness in that person’s life.
Hope is important for life, but it is equally important that we hope is the right thing. Some people place all of their hope in the illusion that they will someday win the lottery. At other times we place our hope on our intelligence, cunning, luck, or the generosity of others. Isaiah speaks to the people of Israel and reminds them that their hope is in God. “They will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” Isaiah’s words remind us also, that our hope is not based in something that might fail us, but in the powerful, loving God of all creation.
There will be streams in the desert—but it will be God who causes those streams to flow.
MIRACLES AND BEYOND
When we are hurting bad, we often approach God in prayer in the role of an advisor. We have our situation figured out. We know what needs to happen to correct our situation, so we tell God exactly what God needs to do in order to help us out. The interesting thing about this is that no matter how many times we try to be God’s advisor, God rarely listens to us.
So many times God answers our prayers in ways that come as a complete surprise. Usually this happens because we have attempted to box God in. We think that we have God figured out. Based on passed experiences, our vast theological insight, and our close, personal relationships with the Big One, we think we know exactly what God needs to do and will do. We fool ourselves. God is bigger than our thoughts and our ability to understand. God is always breaking out of the box in which we attempt to confine God. God’s movement in our lives and in our world often catches us by surprise.
Isaiah reminds the people of Israel of the greatness and power of their God with the words, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Isaiah is telling the people of Israel to expect a miracle. Isaiah’s message carries across the ages to our lives and situations—we too can expect a miracle. Our God is big enough to accomplish the miracles that are needed in our lives.
Desert Streams are signs of God’s love, presence and power. Desert Streams give us hope. We are not alone. We are in the hands of a loving creator.