Isaiah 40:25-31
Series on the Church as Called
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Prayer: God, we honor you. We wait for you. We trust in you. We need reminding of your greatness when we struggle. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening, We are trying to listen and obey, follow and trust.

In this series of sermons about the church being called, we began with the story of the boy Samuel learning to listen for the voice of God speaking to him in the night. Then we laughed at ourselves and Jonah for getting stuck in slimy prisons of our own making because we do not listen and obey God. In fact, sometimes we run in the opposite direction. We were amazed at the story of the fishermen, how they dropped their nets and followed Jesus, immediately. God’s people are called to listen, obey, and follow. But what about those dark times when it seems like you’ve done your part and God seems far away? What about those seasons of life when you’ve prayed hard for something and you begin to wonder if God has forgotten you? Those are the challenging times of waiting….waiting.

In those times the Bible and our forebears in the faith give us two faithful alternatives. First of all, we can complain to God. The psalms are full of lament. There’s a whole book called Lamentations. We can pour out all our grief and know that God hears us and cares. And secondly, the message of scripture and of the saints who have gone before us is that God is worthy of our trust, even when circumstances make us doubt either God’s goodness or God’s power.

So today’s word from Isaiah is one of encouragement for the tough times. It is not making light of suffering, but is reminding us of the hope we have in the character, the nature of God who is worthy of our trust.

Isaiah 40:25-31

To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?

He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name;

because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel,

"My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"?

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.


“We are theological amnesiacs. When life deals us blows, it is easy to forget that God really is still God. Theological amnesia is the kind of problem that
causes us to fall apart every time crisis comes. Some of us whine. Others of us worry in desperate silence. Like the returning exiles, we wonder whether God hasn’t gone off and left us altogether. The real problem is that we have forgotten who we are. There is a kind of theological identity crisis in the church today. We do not know who we are as Christians anymore. We do not remember what we believe or why we believe it. No wonder we feel lostand alone. No wonder we have no idea how to talk with the world about our faith. “ (WILLIAM CARL, III, Feasting on the Word)

Theological amnesia is even worse when life goes well. How easily we forget God when everything is smooth sailing! We forget God’s love. We forget to praise and thank God for all our blessings. This was Israel’s perennial problem. No wonder prophets like Isaiah kept reminding Israel who God was and is. What happens when we forget the God who is Creator and Sustainer, Redeemer and Friend? The moment we confront trouble we collapse with anxiety and stress. Too many people are “stressed out” these days because of their lack of trust in God. (Wm Carl)

This text brings a word of hope and challenge. Remember what you have known. Remember what you have heard. Remember that God is God, and we are people, without the ability to comprehend as God does.

For the exiles, captivity in Babylon was a painful reality (in varying degrees). They were forced from their homes, scattered as the temple was laid to waste, and became refugees from the very land that held promise. They are a people who longed for Jerusalem and wept by the rivers of Babylon (Ps. 137:1); they are the faint and powerless and even observe their youths grow weary and fall exhausted (Isa. 40:29–30). Did you hear this about the twenty Afghan children, refugees, who froze to death due to the harshness winter? One mother of an infant who died was quoted, “My son was never warm – not once in his life.” Imagine the helplessness of such a situation.

The refugee Israelites express their grief this way: My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God” (v. 27). They could have concluded that the gods of Babylon were stronger than their God or that God really does not exist at all. But their conclusion is that they are simply “disregarded” by the One who sits above the circle of the earth.

With God located at this remote and powerful distance, we may conclude that God is only transcendent—beyond all of humanity’s care and struggles. The great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth challenges us in saying that if we believe God “can and must be only the ‘Wholly Other’ . . . such beliefs are shown to be quite untenable, and corrupt and pagan,” because God is equally immanent (existing close and within). As Isaiah recites, the Lord God who sits above the circle of the earth is, at the very same time, the Shepherd who gently claims, gathers, and carries us, as Isaiah 40:10-11 claims. When the poet bids us to lift up our eyes on high, we see that the One who is Wholly Other is also the One who numbers and names us all because, in God’s sovereignty, not one thing in creation can go missing or lost.

In the utter absorption, the blindness of our own suffering, we can forget who God is. “God’s transcendence and immanence are, at the end of the poem, the word of hope for all who believe their plight to be hidden and disregarded. In Isaiah’s contemplation of God in relation to humanity, we see a tapestry of good news that shows the way the exhausted, faint, powerless, and weary renew their strength, mount up with wings like eagles, run without growing weary, walk without fainting (v. 31).” (DAVID FORNEY, Feasting on the Word)

But that happens only when we are waiting for the Lord. And we do not like to wait. Grieving, struggling, finding our way through the challenges, the losses, the agonies of life takes time, takes lots of waiting and trusting that life will get better, or that we will deal with it better. Isaiah challenges us to remember when we are waiting that there are other witnesses to the goodness of power of God – that our present circumstances do not tell the whole story of God, and that our own perspective is limited by the fact that we are not God and cannot see as God sees. Only when we truly grasp God’s power and our powerlessness does this word of hope emerge.

The issue we are getting at here is the centuries-old problem of theodicy, the problem of defending both the goodness and the power of God in the face of an evil world. The question goes like this: If God is good and all-powerful, then why does evil persist? Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? Is another way it is expressed. As the digital information age shrinks the global community and increases our awareness of suffering both far and near, this issue rears its head even more.

The work of God in Christ is not over. We are called to hope for more than we can see. We cannot rationally explain all suffering, as the direct or indirect result of sin. We cannot see any good from suffering, except on the other side of it, when we recognize that the position of weakness was part of our growth and trust in God. We have a God whose suffering with us, while remaining beyond us, never forgets us. Though we sometimes feel abandoned, we never are. It is okay to complain to God, but not forever. In the end, we must recognize with Job and with Isaiah, that God’s understanding is “unsearchable,” Isaiah tells us (v. 28); we will never fully understand how God works in the world, why suffering continues and evil reigns in so many places.

And God’s understanding is not likely to be revealed to us instantaneously. Learning to trust God in the tough times is just that – tough.

Just as building muscle requires the tearing of muscle in order to build it up, so the building of trust requires hardship. Like the age-old trust exercise in youth groups – until you’re falling backwards blindfolded, you will not know what it feels like to be caught or rescued. Resilient trust is built over time. “We come to know how God works in the world through years of living with God and God’s people.” (VERITY A. JONES, Feasting on the Word) Years of listening, obeying, following, and trusting lead us to the place of hope and faith, even in difficult times.

The purpose of worship is to keep reminding us of these truths which help us to trust God and give us space to complain to God. When one of us is weeping, mired down in grief or despair, the others of us are called to provide that space where complaint can be heard. This is the purpose of Stephen Ministry, to give a hurting person a caregiver, who spends an hour each week to the voice of struggle, of lament, of grief. But a good Stephen Minister also brings a word of hope and challenge like Isaiah from at the right time. “No, God has not forgotten you. God still loves you.” In the ministry of caregiving, we all are called to listen well and long and sympathetically to the complaints of those who suffer, but we are also called to carefully and sensitively articulate the faith which gives us hope, when all lessor hopes have failed us. “Yes, despite this circumstance, we believe God is still powerful and good, and until you can believe that, let the church believe it for you. “ It’s like the grieving woman who could not sing hymns after her great loss, but as she keep pushing herself out of the house to worship with her congregation, the messages of hope were sung for her, by the faithful around her, until she got her own voice of faith back, until she could believe again, until she could walk through life again without fainting.

God of our life, through all the circling years, we trust in you. Remind us that you will give us strength when we are weak or weary, and help us to see that weakness is not so bad, because we learn your strength. Remind us that you will lift us up out of the pit and lead us to walk and not faint. We wait for you. Yes we wait patiently and sometimes impatiently, because we trust that one day we will soar like eagles through Christ our Savior. Amen.

The four commentators, Verity Jones, William Carl, Richard Puckett, and David Forney (Feasting on the Word) deserve much credit for the middle of this sermon.