Over the past week, I have been reading Isaiah, an appropriate book for the Advent season since there are many allusions to the coming Messiah. As I finished my reading this morning, a sense of hope came over me.
At this time in our lives, there is much hopelessness around us. An out-of-control pandemic. A failing economy. Political upheaval. For so many, life is hard right now. Yet, as I think about life in general, with momentary lulls along the way, it is always difficult. Interview any one over the age of 40, and you will find no one whose life has not included some pain and struggle. They may conclude that they have had a good life, but it is relative to those of others.
I have had a good life to this point, but it has included both physical and emotional suffering from time to time. You can likely say something similar. This life comes with its share of suffering. We may suffer in varying degrees, but no one is exempt.
In Isaiah’s time, the Jews were suffering. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) had been destroyed by Assyria and exiled, and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) was facing the same fate. As we move into chapters 40 and beyond, Isaiah predicts or observes (scholars debate this) the exile of Judah to Babylon. However, included in his prophetic words is a message of hope, hope for the Jews and hope for us.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.
A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (40:1-5)
This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’
“They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill. They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. I will turn all my mountains into roads, and my highways will be raised up. See, they will come from afar—some from the north, some from the west, some from the region of Aswan.”
Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. (49:8-13)
What Isaiah was saying to the Jews and to us is that our suffering is temporary; it will not last forever. The Apostle Paul echoes this promise:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (II Corinthians 4:16-18)
In other words, the life we are living is merely the preface of the book God has written. Or as C.S. Lewis so poignantly concluded his Chronicles of Narnia:
But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (The Last Battle, p. 184)
This life is merely the introduction. The true essence of the book is yet to follow! So no matter how difficult this life becomes for us, we are promised that much better things are to come. This is the hope we have; this is the hope to which we can cling when life is hard. It is the hope for which we wait in expectation to at long last to be fulfilled, to move on from the preface into the first chapter of an eternal story.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.