Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Isaiah 10:33-34 -- On Destruction and Freedom

"Behold, the Lord, the Lord of hosts, shall lop the bough with terror: and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled.
And he shall cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and Lebanon shall fall by a mighty one."
Isaiah 10:33-34

Sometimes it is hard to understand the destructive side of the verses that we read.  Why is God pruning the trees here, which we know to be symbolic of people and nations?  How do we reconcile the God who does things like this with the God that we read of elsewhere who is gracious, loving, and kind?

God remains the same he has always been, but he does what he must, when he must.  Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a time for every purpose under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1), and so it is with God.  Putting these verses into context, God is talking symbolically about the Second Coming using nations from a conflict that the people at the time were familiar with, and he slows the opposing king and throws up obstacles as he comes closer and closer to destroying his people, but in the end, the opposing king can't be dissuaded, and so God does as he must and stops him, dead.

Now of course, God has the power to not let the bad thing happen in the first place rather than allowing it to go so far, but that's the thing about the tapestry of life... all of us are in it, and God is giving everyone a chance to find out who they are and to learn and grow and make choices, and so God gives us room to make bad choices and to go in the wrong direction if we so choose.  That's what free agency is, and unless we want to be slaves or thralls or minions or whatever else you want to call it, it is *essential* that we be able to choose bad things, and to have space to either continue or to repent and change.  That doesn't mean that the consequences go away, of course, but the point is that God isn't raising us to be thoughtless automatons, but to be gloriously unique individuals.  The oneness that he seeks isn't a unity of yes-men, but a unity of agreement on the things that matter with mutual love and respect for individual differences, and we have to learn that and opt into it freely.  If he prevented us from making bad choices we wouldn't be free, and if he immediately slammed us with permanent consequences after one bad choice, he wouldn't be able to be merciful.  So there has to be a space where any of us can take bad choices as far as we can and confirm our intention to want to be that sort of a person, or where we can reconsider and turn around and work to be better.  That is part of the plan, which is why we are encouraged to help and not harm... because we do have the power to do either.

I think it's also a difference of perspective.  In Isaiah 54:7 God tells us "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee." Even earlier in this chapter he says ". . . be not afraid of the Assyrian: he shall smite thee with a rod, and shall lift up his staff against thee, after the manner of Egypt. / For yet a very little while, and the indignation shall cease, and mine anger in their destruction" (verses 24-25).  Our lives are very short on this earth, but we are eternal beings, and so on some level I think that we can understand at least a little bit of God's perspective here.  God won't forsake us long-term and he won't stay mad, but sometimes our choices and the way that we treat others require correction.  God's plan is progressing on a scale far beyond any one lifetime, and so sometimes we have to trust God's sight because we just can't see that far.  God knows that any suffering in our earth lives can be swallowed up in the joy of eternity.  That doesn't mean our sufferings here are nothing, but some suffering helps us learn, and God weaves it into the tapestry, giving opportunities and blessings to make sure that our choices are still balanced and that we can still learn.  If something gets way out of balance, then he corrects it... perhaps by lopping a bough or pruning back evil fruit.

Today, let's remember that God knows what he is doing, even when we don't understand it.  That doesn't mean we shouldn't think about it, but let's go to the Lord with our questions rather than throwing out anything we don't understand (which at least for me would also mean throwing out the microwave).  God wants to teach us and help us learn and gain knowledge and wisdom.  We just have to be willing to take the time and try to suspend the severe impatience that we have naturally as mortal beings.

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