Count me among the millions of readers who have been blessed over the decades by the writing and ministry of J. I. Packer. His some 300-plus essays, articles, and books, such as Knowing God, have made an impact on innumerable lives, mine included.
So, when it was recently revealed that the nearly ninety-year-old Packer had lost his vision and would not continue his writing ministry, I felt a tinge of sadness mixed with nostalgia. Yet according to Packer, as he approaches life’s finish line, he harbors no sorrow—only anticipation and assurance of God’s providential care.
What is the source of Packer’s perseverance and peace? Having read Packer, the answer is clear. For him, that which is most precious is that which is most permanent. Eyesight fades. Flesh fails. Possessions pass away.
Divine promises endure.
I was recently reminded of this truth as I discussed a biblical text in one of my classes. Isaiah 40 is a chapter known for providing comfort to a suffering people—in this case, God’s people who constantly faced the threat of exile and elimination. From where does this heavenly solace in the midst of suffering spring? God’s enduring promises.
God promised that He would pardon them (v. 2). He would deliver them (v. 3). He would reveal His glory among them (v. 5).
But how could they trust in those promises when all—including their own flesh—seemed to fail and flounder in the face of the fury of raging nations (v. 6)? Isaiah reminds God’s people that divine promises possess permanence.
He does this by drawing the minds of the hearer back to creation itself. In verses 6-8, four entities from Genesis 1-2 make an appearance. Two of these are created things: grass and flowers, as well as man himself. These wither and fade. They “dry up” as the waters of the flood (same word used in Genesis 8).
In contrast, two entities from the creation account stand forever: the breath (can also translated as “Spirit”) of God and the Word of God. Those things are uncreated and there at the beginning (Genesis 1:2ff), and thus they cannot be destroyed.
Of course, these promises find culmination and certitude in one Person—Jesus Christ. This side of the cross, we can see that the Word of God that never fails and cannot endure decay is the same Glory of God that was revealed to His people some 700 years after Isaiah—Christ Himself (see John 1). It is because of Christ that God would pardon His people and deliver them from the enemies that have beset humanity since Genesis 3.
When you reach Packer’s age, if God grants you such longevity, in what will you place your hope? Flesh that fades? Created things that crumble? Or will that which is most precious to you be that which is most permanent?