By Matt Gordon
I’ve never been lost. Not truly. A few times in the woods, I’ve been turned around. And there was that time I went to a concert by day and left by night—the parking lot seemed a totally foreign place by the moonlight. I wandered but was not lost.
I wonder what it would be like to be truly lost? Adrift at sea or trudging some barren wilderness?
I don’t have to wonder about being spiritually lost, for we’ve all felt it. The why-have-you-forsaken me moments that come from deep grief or anxiety or, for some poor souls, is a perpetual state of reality. For one can only be forsaken if he or she has, at some point, been unforsaken. Only that which is once remembered can be forgotten. What must it be to live forever forgotten? Forever without home—sojourning? Forever floating—nothing to nothing, without promise?
The truth is—if there is any Truth in it at all—none of us has to experience that. Yes, we’ll all face the momentary longing created by suffering or sin, by the choices we make that take us away from the Way. But while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; yet great is Thy faithfulness; morning by morning new mercies I see.
God restores the way. Over and over again, grace upon grace, He sets things right, crushes evil underfoot, and calls His children home, to a place He has prepared for them.
The Israelites, in their time of wandering and wondering, of desperately seeking a home and a way, were met with these words from the prophet Isaiah:
This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
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.
The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself
that they may proclaim my praise.
The Israelites are being reminded of the great Red Sea miracle, through which God brought them out of slavery into freedom, from darkness into marvelous light. It was through this way that God provided, protected, and kept His promise.
And yet the admonishment comes: “Forget the former things.” It is like the magician who wows the audience and then deadpans, “And now for my next trick.” It is the swordsman revealing, with aplomb, “I am not left-handed” before switching to his good hand with a flourish. It is the encore stretching beautifully longer than the show before it. It is proclamation of slaves freed and dreams realized. It is the doctor telling an agape family that their loved one is somehow back—that he has been spared or saved or both. It is the way of hope, now and future, declared.
And it is a pronouncement of Jesus Christ, the Way, the truth, and the life, by whom we return rightly home. The water springs up, streams in the wasteland; the water is Living Water.
For those who have been lost in the wilderness, water is the key. If one can find running water, it represents life, for in it is the sustenance of food and drink. But its flow also indicates a direction to follow, the promise of more along the way: follow running water long enough and one will find businesses, homes, and people. Follow the water long enough, and one will find life. Follow the water long enough, and one will find home.
God has restored the way, by becoming the Way. Jesus’ path leads toward Jerusalem, and we follow Him. He is led to the Cross, and we follow Him. We look on as he takes on the punishment of sin—our punishment—and he looks back at us, looking at him. “Forgive them,” he says. And it is done. He breathes his last, and it is finished.
And then like the magician, the swordsman, the doctor, he declares, “See, I am doing a new thing!”
Jesus springs from death to life, and, if we are wise, we follow him—walking, full of hope, alongside the river of life, a way cutting through the wilderness and taking us forever home.