There are lots of ways this world will seek to label and define us; to sum us up according to whatever label happens to be more important in the moment; our race or our political leanings, our economic status, gender or how that’s expressed, our faith or marital status or job.
Who are we really, as we make our way through life?
God’s message through Isaiah is:
You’re the one I created.
You’re the one I formed.
You’re the one I redeemed.
You’re the one I have called by name.
You are precious in my sight, honored, loved.
This message is given to the ancestors of Abraham, who are in exile, who have lost almost everything. Not just property and wealth and land – that hurts, but not as deep as the question about their identity. Their story was to be one of blessing – they were blessed among nations because God chose to work incarnationally – in history – to bring a people back into relationship with God, to come to know God in such a way that they would become a light to all peoples. But it seems that they had lost all the signs of God’s presence. Most of the people of Israel were lost, scattered in the Assyrian invasion. The temple in Jerusalem, the visible sign of God’s presence, was destroyed, God’s glory (as Ezekiel scathingly put it), had departed.
See, the hurt that ran deeper is one of identity – they felt that they had lost their place in the story, their sense of who they were, of where they were in relation to God.
And into that, God speaks.
Do not fear.
I will be with you
through the rivers, through the fire – you will not be overwhelmed.
Far from abandoning them, abandoning us, God reminds them that we are created and formed for his glory — which boils down to us being made for relationship with God, to recognize God for who God is and to reflect God’s character back into the world. To receive God’s blessing and to extend that blessing outward.
And God isn’t giving up on that purpose.
Not only for the sake of the people of Israel, not only for our sake – but for the sake of the world; that all of us together might know that there is only one God.
If we skip to the end of chapter 43 we see God outlining how the people had failed in their purpose.
If they (we) were formed to declare God’s praise (v. 21) – pointing the world to God, they had been silent, unconcerned about God (v.22-23). Instead of offerings that honor and worship God, they have burdened and wearied God with sin and iniquity. If we remember that sin isn’t an arbitrary list of rules, but a rejection of our purpose, it starts to make sense that sin is the exact opposite of what we are created for. Instead of experiencing deep life, we cut ourselves off from life. Instead of being a blessing to the world, sin destroys and distorts our relationships and our work. This isn’t what God created us for – and it cannot go unchecked. So God withdraws protection to the same people God chose, and even to God’s own sanctuary.
It is a hard turn to the story. It’s a reality check. But it’s not the end of the story.
The center of the chapter takes this close look in the mirror and serves as a reminder of their identity and God’s identity.
God, who created, who saves, who redeems – is not done with them, with us, with the world.
This same God blots out those transgressions and sins – for God’s sake, for God’s purpose. Our failure is not the last word, but God’s faithfulness.
Remember who we are.
Remember who God is.
Do not fear, but believe.