In case you haven’t noticed, a lot has happened in the past 3 years.
A worldwide pandemic
War and terrorism
If there was one word to describe the past few years it would be “uncertainty.”
If we’re honest, many of us would prefer to just completely forget that 2020 (through most of 2022) even happened at all. We don’t blame you if you’ve found yourself thinking that, we have all thought about it in some way or another.
As much as we would like to, we cannot go back to business as usual. Many of us have tried and failed because we have neglected to acknowledge all we have endured as a society.
We want to take a step back from our normal conversation about these topics and address a glaring reality: our world has faced immense heartache. What 2020 wrought was a collective trauma where every single individual was affected in some way or another.
Maybe you had a loved one pass away from COVID-19
Maybe you lost your job and financial security
Maybe you have lived in fear and constant anxiety
Maybe you were disconnected from your community
Whatever you have faced, you can take heart in the reality that you weren’t alone. Even now, as you try to make sense of all that has happened in the past few years, you aren’t alone either.
How exactly do we make sense of the past 3 years? How can we step into the future without completely blocking out the past?
There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah 43 that speaks so much to what we are facing now. In this prophetic word, we see God speak words of comfort and promise to His people Israel. In this account, He speaks to His power and glory among His people. God also recounts the story of Israel — their exodus out of the land of Egypt and through the Red Sea.
After this incredible declaration, God says something that shifts things in verses 18-19:
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
It is pretty easy to pluck this passage out of the context of Isaiah, put it on a motivational poster, and call it a day. But we are missing the greater narrative when we do that. Directly after this passage, God continues to speak through Isaiah and essentially reprimands His people for being disobedient in their worship (ouch!).
Furthermore, when we pull this passage out of context we miss a major thing God is doing. When God declares “forget the former things” it is directly connected to “do not dwell on the past.”
When we see the entire narrative of the Israelite people, we see a people who were called to constantly remember their freedom story. They sang psalms and songs about how God freed them from the hand of Pharaoh and the oppression of Egypt.
These declarations were to be a reminder to the people of the great works God had done. However, they constantly forgot how God has freed them and the miraculous work He had done. They carried the mentality of slavery with them so much that they couldn’t fully trust or properly worship the very God who freed them!
In Isaiah, God reminds His people once again of what He had done… then He tells them to forget. It seems contradictory, right? David Guzik perfectly summarizes this shift in the passage.
“It is a fascinating — and instructive — switch between Isaiah 43:16-17 and Isaiah 43:18. In Isaiah 43:16-17, Israel was told to look to the past by remembering the great things God did for them at the Red Sea. But in Isaiah 43:18, they were told, do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. This shows us that there is a sense in which we must remember the past, in terms of God’s great work on our behalf. There is also a sense in which we must forsake and forget the past, with all its discouragement and defeat, and move on to what God has for us in the future.”
This is the shifting point we find ourselves in 2022. While we may just want to forget all the heartache of the past 3 years, there is a sense that God is calling us to still remember the wondrous works He did.
As much as it can be difficult to see it, the past 3 years have been speckled with so many moments of God’s goodness and the kindness He displays throughout humanity. These are the things God is calling us to remember and hold on to. He doesn’t want us to just block out the past, but He does invite us to let go of the discouragement and defeat.
The wonderful thing you will notice from the Isaiah passage is that God promises to do a new thing. God didn’t have to release His children from the slavery of Egypt and walk them through the Red Sea again. Instead, God declares that He will “make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
God is doing a brand new thing. In that newness, He invites us to hold tightly to the faithfulness He has proven to us time and time again. He also asks us to release the fear of the past and trade it in for the hope of the future.
This new way doesn’t guarantee us a difficulty-free future or life, but it does guarantee us that God will give us exactly what we need. He will be Provider and Shepherd as we walk in the wilderness toward the Promised Land.
Even as we continue to face political unrest, war, financial uncertainty, and other major heartaches in the world, we can still hold onto hope. We can trust that God will walk with us through the wilderness and make a way for us. God said as much in Isaiah 43:1-2:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”
We can walk into the future with full assurance that what God has done before He will do again. We can let go of the pain of the past and hold firm to the work God is doing in the world that He loves.
We can have hope!
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