December 28, 2010
Some days reading 6 chapters of Isaiah seems like a verbose and unintelligible mountain. Some days it seems like feast of poetry that you can really get stuck into! Today it is, blessedly, the latter. This probably has something to with the fact that I’ve done very little else all day and so don’t feel squeezed for time as I would on a normal Tuesday. Don’t you just love that hibernation-like time between Christmas and New Year? (if you have been working today, apologies for the smugness!).
Chapters 44-49 of Isaiah pick of the major themes of the book; God as judge but also redeemer, and God as the God. There is an eloquent piece of prose poetry in Isaiah 44:9-20 about the fashioning of idols out of material things. It’s quite beautifully written I think, and really gets to the heart of the futility of trying to make Gods out of the material world (which, of course, God has created). Indeed, the futility of idol worship is a recurring theme in these chapters. As is the assertion that there are no gods apart from the Holy One of Israel. 45:48 ends “I am the Lord, and there is no other.” 46:9 repeats this phrase and adds “I am God, there is no one like me.” 48:12b states “I am He; I am the first, and I am the last.” And again and again we are told of God’s power in creation and salvation.
So what’s new? The assertion that there is no god but God is pretty much stating the obvious to monotheistic ears, isn’t it? This is a given for those who follow the Abrahamic faiths and many more besides. But do we really think about what it means?
Most of us have heard sermons about making idols out of material things. Sure, we don’t fashion statues of gold or silver or cedar, but the way we celebrate Christmas more than hints at the importance of stuff in our lives. Perhaps we do lose focus sometimes, most times?
There is something deeply profound and endlessly repeatable about the statement that God is the god. I really think that if any of us knew that, really knew it, it would transform us entirely. We would be able to surrender in ways we only dream of (and are probably quite afraid of) now.
God is God. God is God. Leaving the descriptions aside, it is enough simply to reflect that He is God and there is no other. Nothing that is supreme, nothing that we can trust like that and, perhaps most wonderfully of all, nothing that we should fear. Because God is God, and there is no other.
I encourage you to sit with that idea for a while, perhaps in your quiet time if you have such a thing. Do you know it? Really know it? What difference would it/does it make to know this profound truth? How could it transform you and your life? Please share your discoveries here if you feel you can. And perhaps I’ll add a comment of two to this post when I’ve sat with it too.
What would happen if we all just let God be God in our lives? I don’t know, but I have a feeling it would pretty amazing.
December 18, 2010
Well, it would probably easier to concentrate on Isaiah 40-44 if I wasn’t reading it on a train with a nearby neighbour who feels the need to play their ipod so loud that the entire carriage could join in with the chorus if they felt the urge. Funnily enough, none of us do. But needs must. I always find the prophecy day of my Bible plan challenging any way, partly because of the sheer volume I have to read; this is such a rich text, it’s hard to pick a theme to reflect on from one chapter let alone five. But it’s also that I don’t feel equipped to really understand Isaiah; I don’t know much about the context, the meaning traditional of the imagery. But, you know me, I’ll give it a go!
Luckily, this week I feel a little guided. I read the beginning of Isaiah 40 in a carol service yesterday. It contains that famous line “a voice cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”. Of course, in a Christian context we associate these words with John the Baptist (Luke 3:4, John 1:23). When we read these words we think of the coming of Jesus.
But this making straight is mentioned again and again in Isaiah. There is the passage directly after that above, which begins “every valley shall be lifted up and even mountain and hill shall be made low” (40:4). Then later the voice of God tells Israel “I shall make you a threshing-sledge, sharp, new and having teeth; you shall thresh the mountains and crush them, you shall make the hills like chaff” (41:15). And again “I will turn the dark places before them into light, the rough places into level ground” ( 42:16b).
So it seems the whole make straight thang is a pretty big deal in the imagery of scripture. But what does it mean? Thinking about it at first I thought it seemed a little dull. Everything leveled out, even, no peaks and troughs. Boring! But I doubt the message here is that God wants us to make everything relentlessly average before he comes to us. That doesn’t really sound like God to me.
A level playing field then? Making all equal? Could this be about justice? Well I’d like it to be, but I thinking this is a bit of a modern analogy I’m making.
Perhaps, then, it’s something internal. I think this was probably what the John the Baptist was getting at, as his message was baptism and repentance. I hope it doesn’t mean making everything in us even; sanding off the rough edges. I like the rough edges, I like our individual peaks and troughs. But making a way for God, a path for to us and through us, well, that sounds like a good plan.
I find myself asking, are there obstacles to God within me? Barriers I’ve put up that seem like mountains? Are there cavernous valleys? And am I dealing with them? I want so much to make straight the way for God in my life. And I want to clear path to Him. I want to live in a way that would break down mountains in order to be closer and closer to God.
When I was reading this earlier a song started going around in my head. It’s another of my pop-songs-that-would-make-amazing-worship-songs. It’s joyous and determined, just like I hope to be on my path through the wilderness. I feel it could also be God’s song to us, especially in the context of Jesus’ sacrifices; there’s nothing big enough to God from getting to us, babe. Enjoy: