To those who are tired of waiting on the Lord…

Do you believe that God is able to keep a promise? Are you willing to dismiss the power of the one who makes and keeps covenant with creation? Perhaps you aren’t used to thinking like this. Maybe you are so sure that God is faithful, that the idea of God’s absence has never occurred to you – but not everyone is so confident.
Faith is not just the absence of doubt, but the constant challenges that were offered to the Hebrew people in the ancient near east was proving to be too much for their faith. Over generations they have been pushed from doubt to despair; the Kingdom of David has disintegrated; they have been threatened by enemies from both directions, and their own leadership (by the time of the prophet Isaiah) is either absent or incompetent. In a situation like this, it is hard to remember that you serve God who cares. Whom does God care about? What is the point of our attempts at faithfulness. devotion, or obedience? And it is into this sort of despair that the words of the prophet Isaiah are spoken/written.
It seems as though Isaiah has no doubts. In this conversational bit of poetry, the prophet reminds us of the many remarkable deeds of history that can only (in his mind) be credited to God. Isaiah’s message is simple; nothing you see – nothing you know – nothing in our entire experience is unaffected by the power and promises of God.
Now – to be fair – the faithful of Isaiah’s day considered that this meant God brought evil to them (when they strayed / disobeyed) as well as redemption and relief (when they called out in repentance). Disaster was a as much a part of God’s mysterious plan as was salvation – and of course salvation was only for the ‘truly righteous’ – and the whole of life was a game designed to put you on the merciful side of God’s ledger book. To the ancient mind, there was no such thing as an undeserved disaster. The wrong side was winning the battle for God’s favour –
or so it appeared – and we know all too well what that feels like.
Sometimes God appears to show mercy to ‘our enemies’. Occasionally we appear to suffer punishment without cause. The divine balance sheet is a complete mess – there is no logic, no justice (as we imagine justice). God appears to have either forgotten the rules, or simply re-written them. It’s enough to make us abandon the notion of faithful living. We play back and forth with the idea that ‘the church is being dismissed’ as a legitimate voice in our society. The notion that God might not ‘choose sides’ in a way that would satisfy us is unsettling. And that is a result of our attempt to claim either God’s (unique) favour, or a position of absolute certainty about our own righteousness. We forget – every time – that God’s ways aren’t our ways; neither are we able to claim perfect understanding of what it means to be God’s people. When the world looks different than we imagine it should – or when the mystery of God’s grace seems to have given us a wide berth, it is too easy to become discouraged.
Isaiah’s history lesson – this short primer on the wonderful and mysterious nature of God’s behaviour – is not meant to discourage us, nor is it supposed to make us feel less worthy. The prophet reminds us of the inexplicable twists and turns of history to prove his larger point: God is not ours to be ‘understood’ – God is to be revered precisely because God is so…complicated. Bad things happen to good people (and good things happen to bad people), and none of this makes any sense to people who are trying to be faithful. Isaiah offers an unusual tonic for our confusion. Reminders of God’s awesome power (and our inherent frailty) are everywhere in chapter 40. But neither the power of God, the complexity of God’s relationship with Creation , nor the broad reminder of the sudden and limited nature of our existence are intended as a threat; Isaiah presents them as fact. And with that fact comes this truth: The universe is behaving just as it ought.
All created things have a beginning and an end, and in between there is an opportunity for glory (or disgrace) – and God knows all this.
God knows our strengths and our limits – our weakness and our potential, and God will never ‘grow weary’ of offering help, support, encouragement, correction or strength. No matter our situation or circumstance; in spite of what we would now call ‘bad luck’, or what the ancients described as ‘God’s judgement’, God’s inclination toward us is always love. And that is good news.
Good news because even when we don’t fully understand what is happening around us, God is offering us a chance to live according to an ancient covenant of grace. Good news because we are not responsible for ‘dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s’ to ensure our salvation – no matter how desperate our situation may seem. Good news because once we acknowledge our mortality – we can recognize the hope offered by God’s eternal vigilance and care. And we don’t have to take Isaiah’s word for it.
Jesus entered a world torn by conflict – spoke to a people full of doubt – and lived and died by the conviction that God’s promises were absolutely true. And while his crucifixion seems to prove our hopelessness, His resurrection cleans the slate, and gives us hope and breath and life again. In case we still weren’t sure, God sends this message in Jesus: I know that in this world you face problems of great complexity you will encounter wickedness in one another and occasionally in yourselves— you will face all this and more, but take courage; I have conquered all this.
Do you believe that God is able to keep a promise? Are you willing to dismiss the power of the one who makes and keeps covenant with creation? Can you imagine a world without hope? Thanks be to God, we don’t have to – for the Risen Christ assures us of God’s ability to bring us from despair to hope every time.

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