Yesterday as I reflected on Isaiah’s amazing words, it struck me that God’s promise to be with us in the fire and waters changes the way we look at the fire and water – the trials of life. We don’t fear them.
But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.Isaiah 43:1-2
This seems to me much the same sentiment as Romans 8’s glorious statements that we are more than conquerors:
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:37-39
A conqueror has victory. Being more than a conqueror means triumphing through victory and defeat. It means you aren’t dependent on traditional victory.
This is why James can call Christians to actually rejoice in the midst of trials.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.James 1:2-5
This gives us insight into how believers hold up under fierce trials. We deeply need this perspective. Note that James tells us to ask for wisdom, not for steadfastness. Steadfastness is the result of wisdom—it comes as we view our sufferings in light of God’s goodness. So when you feel like giving up, ask that God would transform your view of your trials!
This truth deeply impacted me as a teenager watching the movie The Matrix. The main character, Neo, was living in a false reality, a computer program. He became unconquerable when he started seeing the false reality for what it truly was. This was epitomized in the dialogue: “Are you telling me I can dodge bullets?” and the response: “I’m telling you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.” When he starts seeing the bullets for what they truly are—computer code—they are no longer a danger to him. It is an imperfect illustration. While we don’t want to downplay the real pain of suffering, when we realize that God works through suffering, it is not something we have to “dodge” with every fiber of our being, as unbelievers do. We don’t play by the “rules” the world does (Col. 2:21).
This is a specifically Christian wisdom. Unbelievers cannot have the same perspective, they cannot see trials as anything but destructive (true, there is the “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” mentality, but that minimizes suffering–and the fear is always what does kill you). In contrast, Christians can rejoice even in trials as God gives them a wisdom that knows nothing can separate them from the love of God. He is with us even in the waters and fire.