Thursday, April 04, 2013
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear: but your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:1–2).
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 59:1–20
All of us are prone to complain and quick to feel mistreated. There are times when even God does not act to suit us. Sometimes we get the idea that if we have led average, respectable lives, God is indebted to see that all goes well with us. When clouds come on our horizon, we suddenly feel the heavens have turned to brass and our prayers have been misplaced or ignored. God seems to be looking the other way.
Israel suffered from the same affliction. They supposed God had not been sufficiently appreciative of their merits. Observe their complaint: “Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? Wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge?” (Isa. 58:3). They seemed to feel that time spent in religious performances did not pay, because every time they needed help, the Lord was looking the other way.
Usually the people who feel this way are those who have never given anything more than lip service to God. Dedicated disciples understand that a part of their calling involves giving a faithful witness in the midst of the same difficulties that beset all people.
But if in your life God has indeed turned his back, then a careful look at Isaiah’s message is in order.
1) Sin is the reason (Isa. 59:1–2).
Sin separates a person from God. The problem is not lack of divine love; it is the foolishness of fleshly priorities. As long as people prefer their sin to God’s grace, the gulf remains. God calls people from their sins but does not drag them screaming and kicking to the altar of sacrifice.
Isaiah mentions the sins of lying, dishonesty, and deceit (59:3–4). Every dishonest dollar, every moral perversion, every infringement on the purpose of the Sabbath—although done in secret—cries out the reason that God’s back is turned. Personal sin is the problem! Like a stool pigeon, it rises at the most embarrassing times to testify against us: “For our transgressions are multiplied before thee, and our sins testify against us” (59:12).
Isaiah’s words are very relevant: “Truth is fallen in the street” (59:14). Truth has been reported missing in action, a casualty amid the struggle of greedy people. Truth can be fully seen only as it is revealed in Jesus Christ (John 8:32). Dishonesty is as much a perversion of the true life as is adultery. Moral depravity is the source of both.
The great astronomer David Rittenhouse said that the stars are so far away that a silk thread laid on the lens of his telescope would completely cover a star. Even small sins shut God out of our view.
2) Despair is the result (Isa. 59:4).
People living apart from God produce a deadly harvest; they “bring forth iniquity” (v. 4). James pictures sin in terms of an abortive birth. Lust conceives and gives birth to sin, and when sin is of age, an evil pregnancy is observed. The offspring: spiritual death (James 1:15). Paul says it another way: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).
Before Pasteur’s discovery of microbes, the medical profession was ignorant of the infection produced by germs. Few people survived surgery in the early nineteenth century. In a book on medical history, a Dr. Park tells of his own experience in a hospital in 1876. Though one of the largest in the country and though staffed by the leading surgeons of the time, the hospital record showed that with only one or two exceptions, every surgical patient operated on that winter died of blood poisoning.
Sin is even deadlier and more contagious. Parents worry about the sanitation provided their children but often allow their children to grow up in an atmosphere of spiritual contamination, which, like deadly radiation, silently destroys life.
Human schemes have a way of backfiring when God is omitted. Supposing themselves to be wise in the world’s ways, “they hatch cockatrice’s eggs, and weave the spider’s web” (Isa. 59:5). Isaiah goes on to say that to eat the eggs of the cockatrice (a deadly serpent)—the fruit of human schemes—is to die.
Self-devised schemes either shrivel on the vine or grow into uncontrollable monstrosities. People living apart from God come at last to the predicament of the one who, having swallowed an egg, was afraid to move for fear it would break and afraid to sit still for fear it would hatch.
Self-sufficient people build a kind of peace for themselves that sooner or later grows brittle and shatters: “The way of peace they know not. .they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace” (Isa. 59:8). Having spent their efforts weaving their own webs, plotting their own course, following their empty philosophies, they learn of their utter failure: “Their webs shall not become garments, neither shall they cover themselves with their works” (59:6). Suddenly the bank account is not able to solve every problem. No longer does it bring the great assurance it was once thought to possess.
Isaiah pictures people as lost in the desert of sin: “We wait for light, but behold obscurity. .we walk in darkness. We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes. .we are in desolate places as dead men. .we look for. .salvation, but it is far off from us” (59:9–11). People who prefer darkness to the light of God (John 3:19) grow so accustomed to darkness that when tragedy snatches aside their thick veil, they find themselves spiritually blind. Those who have long worn the smirk of ridicule, who have preferred to “stand amused” instead of “standing amazed,” walk about as dead persons. They have totally missed life.
3) Repentance is the solution (Isa. 59:20).
Instead of wondering why God allows things to become chaotic, people do well to blame themselves and their own sin. Deliverance can come from God but only when people repent: “The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression. .saith the Lord” (v. 20). Sin obscures God and voids prayer, but God will turn and deliver all who repent. It is strange that our enlightened world remains as blind to this truth as when Isaiah voiced his cry. The Dutch Mennonites have a saying that is particularly applicable to the spiritual realm: “We are too soon old and too late smart.”
Actually, God has not turned his back. Rather, we have turned from God. There is still hope for those who will seek him in repentance. Amos asks, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (3:3). The implied answer is no!
What is the mark of repentance? It is the act of giving up, of turning oneself in, of confessing guilt. Repentance knows nothing of the bargaining table. It is an unconditional confession. Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The act of turning to God involves both.
In rabbinical literature there is the story of a little boy who came running home tearfully because he had been playing hide-and-seek with his friends, and when it was his turn to hide, no one came to look for him. The father used the opportunity to point out how God must feel when people do not seek him. However, the fact of the matter is that God calls out to those seeking him. He does not desire to remain hidden.
Now in Conclusion
Several years ago, some noted historians wrote a book titled If, or History Rewritten. They elaborated on what might have happened if the Dutch had not sold New Amsterdam, if Lincoln had lived, if Lee had won the Battle of Gettysburg. Such speculations are interesting but useless. What might have been is beside the point.
What actually happens is all that counts. Your sin is your biggest problem. It separates you from God. Settle this matter before you tackle any other problem.