I Will Be With You

I Will Be With You

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, 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

What a beautiful baptismal reflection. Perhaps we as the church should have these words before us when someone is baptized. And these words mean even more when we’ve also read the words that come shortly before at the end of Isaiah 42 in which the prophet reflects that the Israelites’ experience of being sent into exile in the foreign land of Babylon felt like being set on fire, and not by random circumstances, but set on fire by God himself. Israel was so full of idolatry and injustice with no signs of letting up that God gave them over to captivity. But these words from Isaiah are after the worst of the captivity has happened, and Isaiah is beginning to imagine what life after exile is going to look like.

So now God speaks through the prophet to say, Yes, I have sent the fire and the raging waters upon you. And I am with you. I am with you to make something new of you. Enter the water and it will not drown you. Enter the fire and it will not burn you. This promise guides us so beautifully to the waters of baptism, because this is what’s happening in baptism. We are willfully entering into oblivion, being immersed into nothingness, and letting God be the one to raise us up out of that nothingness into the new thing he wants to make of us.

Up is down. Down is up. Life is death and death is life. The faith that Isaiah 43 is calling us to doesn’t really make sense. We’re being drawn into a baptismal reality in which two plus two does not simply equal four. “I will be with you.” This is the God who does not push us into the flooding waters and the fire, but holds our hand and walks with us into it. This God is perfectly revealed to us in the one who goes into the Jordan river ahead of us, and the one who says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

God is moving us into a future we can’t control, into ways of thinking and believing and behaving that we’re unfamiliar with. Moving toward that future might be the scariest thing the world. It will mean confronting the thing we’re most scared of. It will mean letting go of an old status quo. It means walking into the water that will wash away old values and priorities, and into the fire that will burn away whatever doesn’t belong in the human heart. It means moving forward without keeping a foot in the comfortable paths we already walked and got familiar with. It means trusting the mysterious and unpredictable God who wants to throw us in the water and fire more than we trust our own eyes and ears, our own experiences and capabilities. Is there anything scarier than this baptism of water and Spirit and fire?

The God who moves us into the transformative water and fire is the God we know in Jesus Christ, who does not prod us into the water and fire from a distance, but walks with us into the water and fire and makes us completely new in them.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *