09 August 2023

God’s ways aren’t our ways. They’re holy.

Let’s begin with Isaiah 55. Yep, all of it.

Isaiah 55.1-13 MEV
1 Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat.
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
and let your soul delight itself in abundance.
3 Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Listen, so that your soul may live,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
even the sure mercies of David.
4 See, I have given him as a witness to the people,
a leader and commander to the people.
5 Surely you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and nations that did not know you shall run to you
because of the LORD your God,
even the Holy One of Israel;
for He has glorified you.
6 Seek the LORD while He may be found,
call you upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
and let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him,
and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways My ways,
says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are My ways higher than your ways,
and My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain comes down,
and the snow from heaven,
and do not return there
but water the earth
and make it bring forth and bud
that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
it shall not return to Me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.
12 For you shall go out with joy,
and be led out with peace;
the mountains and the hills
shall break forth into singing before you,
and all the trees of the field
shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree,
and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree;
and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign
that shall not be cut off.

This chapter is something the LORD told Isaiah to encourage southern Israel in the 700s BC, as they were facing down the Assyrian Empire, which was devastating all the countries round about—including northern Israel. It’s among the chapters which some scholars call “Second Isaiah,” because they’re so different from chapters 1–39; they’re about hope and future and God’s grace, whereas the first section was about God’s usual frustrations with the Israelis’ rampant sinning. So different, these scholars are pretty sure they were written by a whole different prophet—as if one guy isn’t capable of writing about multiple subjects.

Or, more appropriately, doesn’t radically change when he has God-encounters which convince God’s grace is way more consistent with his character than God’s wrath.

Y’see, God’s wrath is temporary. God doesn’t stay angry long. When he’s outraged, it’s for a few minutes—and mainly, I suspect, to remind us he does get angry, and he’s not ignoring injustice. He’s gonna set things right. He frequently does. But way, WAY more often, God’s about grace: If we stop sinning and turn to him, he hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s always willing to accept repentant people and love on us.

So why do we see so many prophecies in the Old Testament, and so many visions in Revelation, about God’s wrath? Two reasons: We humans suck, and God’s warning us there will be consequences, and they’re coming sooner than we think; and we humans are wrathful—which is why we kept and fixate on God’s statements about wrath.

I’ve no doubt whatsoever that young Isaiah prophesied wrath, because Isaiah himself was likewise outraged about the doings of his fellow citizens. Because he wanted them to cut it out. So did the LORD!—so it’s not that Isaiah was selectively tweaking God’s words to suit himself, like people so often do. But again: God doesn’t stay angry long. We do. We let our frustrations fester. God knows better than to do that… and in time, Isaiah learned better than to do that.

It’s why I’m zeroing in on verse 8 in this chapter: כִּ֣י לֹ֤א מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי֙ מַחְשְׁב֣וֹתֵיכֶ֔ם וְלֹ֥א דַרְכֵיכֶ֖ם דְּרָכָ֑י נְאֻ֖ם יְהוָֽה/Ki lo makhshevótay makhshevóteykhém, velo darkheykhém derkhém, nhum YHWH— “For my inventions aren’t your inventions, and your paths aren’t my paths, the LORD reveals.” We don’t think alike.

So we gotta learn to. We gotta find out how he thinks—it’s in your bibles, folks—and stop presuming since we have the Holy Spirit within, we automatically have the mind of God. Time and again we’ve demonstrated we so don’t. We don’t produce his fruit. Our knee-jerk reactions still aren’t consistent with his character. We imagine good fruit will happen spontaneously ’cause we belong to him now, but that’s not how it works. We gotta practice his fruit, and resist the ever-present temptation to remain fleshly Christians and just relabel all our sinful activity with Christianese words.

We gotta be like God, and unlike other people. Including other Christians, who are often lousy examples anyway. We gotta be unique. Different. Weird. Holy.

Abundant resources.

It starts by coming to God and receiving his unlimited grace. And recognizing of course it’s unlimited—God isn’t like anyone else. He doesn’t suffer a shortage of resources. Including a shortage of patience! He already knows every sin we’ve ever committed, including every future sin we’re gonna commit. And he doesn’t recoil in horror, but offers to forgive everything. Everything.

That’s how God thinks. That’s how we gotta think. When we encounter our fellow sinners, we can’t let their sins get in our way. When we know they’re gonna sin in future—we know they’re addicts and can’t help it, or know they lack self-control and it’s probably gonna be years before they gain it—we have to put that aside and love ’em anyway. (Not put ’em in positions of authority and control, of course; don’t be foolish. But forgive and love ’em anyway.) Don’t put limits on our forgiveness; it’s not three strikes and they’re out, or Simon Peter’s generous seven strikes. It’s Jesus’s 70×7, “forgive ’em till you lose count” metric.

It starts by not spinning our wheels on useless activities and programs which won’t satisfy our desire for a relationship with God. Churches put together so many projects which are designed to help make Christians feel better about our Christianity. Seminars, conferences, revivals, retreats, books to read with steps to take—practices which they claim will help us pray more effectively, worship harder, feel more deeply, feel more spiritual. And nearly all of ’em cost money; sometimes a lot of money.

I’m actually writing this article while on vacation at a Christian campground. It’s fun, which is why I go. But a lot of these campgrounds love to advertise themselves as life-changing experiences, and if you wanna be a better Christian you gotta spend the thousand bucks so you can stare at redwood trees while you listen to preachers. No you don’t! And if you feel you do, God makes redwood trees for free, and preachers upload sermons to their web pages for free. Go find a sermon, find a tree, and listen and stare until you feel silly. Isn’t it odd how the thousand bucks makes you feel less silly?

All Jesus needs, is for me to shut up and listen to him. Which I can do anywhere. So can you. Do that. Read his bible, listen to the Holy Spirit, learn God’s ways—then do them.