Updated: Dec 1, 2020
“Don’t remember the prior things; don’t ponder ancient history. Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43: 18-9
It’s a bit weird that someone in the Bible would tell us not to look backwards to see what God is like. If we’re people who have faith in the God of Scripture, the God of Israel and the Church, that would seem to be our only option. Or at least, one we don’t want to do away with.
On top of which, Western culture has tended to have a bit of an unhealthy obsession with newness. We have grasped after the next thing, the faster, the easier, the younger. We are in danger of destroying the earth to satisfy our insatiable appetites for new things that will be thrown away when the next new thing is available. New is not invariably bad, but we can’t say that it’s always good. What’s the saying? Those who don’t pay attention to history are bound to repeat it? That’s never said with optimism.
But I think that when Isaiah insists that God is doing a new thing, it’s not just for the sake of newness. And when we’re told not to consider the past, I don’t think that means that the past is always irrelevant. Instead, it’s a reminder to God’s people, those who have been called by and have trusted God, not to restrict the things that God can do to our expectations or experiences. It’s a bold reminder that the God of the Bible is truly God—not the manifestation of our best will and knowledge. God is perfectly free to do something beyond our imaginations. And that is good news.
I love the image of God making a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The wilderness is, by definition, a place without clear ways. The desert is, by definition, a place where rivers aren’t. It’s not that we can never look backwards to see how God is. It’s just that sometimes, God does things we couldn’t have seen coming, and wouldn’t have dared ask for based on our expectations or experience.
It’s also a good reminder that even in wilderness and desert situations, where the way is unclear and it seems like every source of nourishment is sapped, even then, even there, God is at work to make a way, and renew. It’s a breathtaking word of hope, if we’ll hear it.
Foxes & Fowl is a movement committed to paying attention to what new things God is up to, perhaps in unlikely and surprising places, in and around us. We want to learn to recognize the unexpected ways that God shows up and changes the world, even when we might least expect it. Want to join us?