The Empty Man
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
“Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’ ” (Isa. 44:20 NIV).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 44:1–20
Despite the economic downturn in recent years, our society remains relatively affluent. We have more of everything, and everything we have is bigger and better. Yet amid the fullness of prosperity walk multitudes of empty people. We have learned to live behind a glossy, successful veneer in order to hide the gnawing inner hollowness of our lives.
Many of the extremes of our age are merely efforts to find some meaning for life. The pain of emptiness is not easily sedated. Among the most prominent of the attempted cures are alcohol, drugs, and sex. Yet this is not true of every empty person. Some have high morals that will not permit such means of escape. They are the people whose only other avenue of escape seems to be the addition of activity after activity to an already busy life in an attempt to drown out the pain of emptiness and meaninglessness. Isaiah says of the empty person, “Such a person feeds on ashes.”
1) Committed to a superficial view of life (Isa. 44:6–20).
The phrase “Such a person feeds on ashes” is a proverbial saying used to refer to that which has no purpose. The man who feeds on ashes took a wrong turn somewhere back down the path and finds himself following a very superficial view of life: “A deluded heart misleads him.” There are times when poor eyesight is the result of improper diet. In much the same fashion, the empty man’s distorted view of life is because of his daily consumption. He has been filling his life with the temporary. He is concerned only with the physical.
Any view of life that does not include God presents a tragic distortion. The fruits are utter confusion. The world is so busy demanding that the Christian come up with answers for every injustice or tragedy that it fails to examine its own destitute worldview. The Christian has an assurance of purpose because of his trust in the heavenly Father: “Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God” (v. 6). The Christian looks around and realizes that God is the originator of all he sees.
The empty man, with his bankrupt philosophy, fails to see that science is merely a human attempt to discover the mechanics of God’s working. Instead, he makes of the study a god. He fails to see that certain basic laws of morality have been set in operation and cannot be violated without harm. He feels free to write his own moral code and then wonders why he is left empty. He views the church as merely another civic club and fails to see that in spite of its human weaknesses, it is indeed the divine instrument of God to bring about God’s kingdom. In such a state of bewilderment, the empty man supposes that one religion is as good as another, since none could be very important. He fails to see that he has made many and sundry gods of his own. To present this truth, Isaiah vividly depicts the situation of a man who chops down a tree (which grew because of God’s sun and rain) in order to build a fire and cook his meal. Unaware of how ludicrous his actions are, he takes what is left of the tree and fashions from it an idol for himself and then prays to it for deliverance, saying, “Save me! You are my god!” (vv. 9-17 NIV).
2) Committed to a temporary hope (Isa. 44:20).
The empty man’s basic fault is not a lack of commitment. Rather, it is that his commitment is a short-range one. The lamp of earthly hope casts at best a dim shadow, and its feeble gleams stop short at the grave. The final resting place of all his hopes is a crude hole in the damp earth. The boundary of his hopes is the mere dimensions of a coffin.
Such a man has chosen only an earthly itinerary. He has planned no other journey. Having eluded God’s stamp, he has at one and the same time eclipsed God’s promises. While others know the joy of crying, “I am the Lord’s” (v. 5), he feels the loneliness of belonging only to himself.
In the Middle Ages, people often took pilgrimages to holy places, including the Holy Land itself. However, the greatest pilgrimage of all is that of the soul, which has nothing to do with geography or transportation. Rather, it is a pilgrimage of faith whereby one comes out of the shell of self-righteousness and into the warmth of God’s grace. It is just this experience that sets a person on the eternal journey and its heavenly destination.
Commitment to a temporary hope circumscribed by the grave is to come at last to face the end of life alone—without God! I have read many testimonies of faithful Christians who have approached death, and in the moment of its grip, given their greatest testimony of assurance. I have read of atheists coming to the end of life and crying out in pathetic tones their futile feelings. I have never read any account of such people facing death with a glowing testimony endorsing their way of life.
From the great historical array of people who have sought to stand alone, one can pick out men like Ahab, king of Israel. One glance at him lying in a pool of his own blood with an arrow piercing the tiny chink in his kingly armor has a way of obscuring his past years of lustful pleasure. His was the horror of dying alone. Or look at the wicked Herod (Acts 12) strutting about as a god and displaying himself as one who could live without God. Then see him stricken and dying alone. History is full of such examples of people whose hope was terribly temporary and pitifully limited. They are the empty people—people all dressed up with everything the world has to offer but with no place to go but to the cemetery and the lake of fire. The empty person has an empty hope because “he cannot save himself” (v. 20 NIV).
3) Committed to a lie (Isa. 44:20).
Not only is the empty man unable to deliver his soul, but he is also unable to admit that his greatest defense is nothing more than a lie. He does not seem able to say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (v. 20 NIV). David faced Goliath with only a slingshot in his hand. However, he himself was in God’s hand. The empty man faces the struggles and trials of life as well as the tentacles of death with nothing more than a lie in his hand. The lie to which he is committed is that somehow everything will work out all right. Satan assured Adam and Eve that the transgression of God’s commandment would not matter greatly one way or another. His propaganda has changed little since that time. The Bible is bad news as well as good news. The bad news is that nothing works out all right apart from God. Only to those who “love the Lord” do “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).
Life without God is like a long row of ciphers. It adds up to nothing. Put a digit in front of the ciphers and suddenly it means millions. Try taking God away, and life becomes an empty mausoleum. This is the testimony of the writer of Ecclesiastes. He tried all the pleasures and pursuits offered by life and concluded that they were all “vanity of vanities.” It was not until he discovered God that other pursuits took on meaning. When God is ignored, some form of idolatry is all that is left, and the Bible reminds us that an idol is nothing—it is a lie.
Now in Conclusion
In our nuclear age when there is much concern about survival should a bomb get into the wrong hands, we need to recognize that failure to survive is not the greatest danger. Rather, we should shun the possibility of survival without meaning or purpose. In a dog-eat-dog world, the empty man has learned to survive. What he has not learned is how to live. Novelist James Barrie writes, “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” Yet it is just such an inventory that is needed. The empty man sees life as an end in itself. But it is not so. Life is a battle to determine who is to serve in God’s eternal kingdom. The empty man seeks only to dodge danger and stay alive. The wise man commits himself to the army of the eternal God and loses himself in service. It is in this very experience that emptiness fades away and fullness becomes a reality.
God bless you, Pastor Mike