Frustration builds in our minds. Popular entertainment clashes with our values. Politicians stun us with decisions. Friends, even family members, betray us. We want to cry out to God, “Do something! Remember how you intervened in biblical times. Save our society!” The seeming silence of God assaults our faith. We want to pray as the prophet Isaiah prayed in Isaiah 64:
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you1 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you” (Isaiah 64:1-3).
We, like Isaiah, want God to shake things up when we feel the world has turned upside down. In my last posting, I noted that sometimes we have trouble accepting it when God says “Yes!” Yet we want God to do the unexpected, to defeat the powerful foe. We read our Bibles and marvel at God’s interventions on behalf of nations and individuals. That God wins our allegiance; we almost forget the part of the believer. Isaiah continues to pray:
“Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember you ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?” (Isaiah 64:4-5).
We compromise. We assimilate. We accept changes that tear our hearts. We shrink in our own opinion of ourselves. We fail to present a positive case for ethical and moral behavior, let alone for faith in God and in Jesus as his son. Isaiah confesses as he prays:
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.”
Isaiah admits that his and his people’s sin have created their traumatic state. They ignore God’s way, and when they don’t¸ their hearts are not in it. They fail to call on God’s name. He just does not seem to be there. Still, Isaiah and we remember how God acted, and we believe he will act again. A father disciplines, but his love makes him help his child recover. Isaiah addresses our ideal relationship with God as he prays:
“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
We tremble as taboos crumble and others question our standards for behavior or ridicule our faith. Isaiah’s prayer suggests we must look within when we lament the ills of our times. Are we faithful? Or does the cancer we observe in our peers exist in ourselves as well? Like Isaiah, we must cry out for God to act while recognize our own culpability in what has happened. The prayer suggests that God will act, but in his time, not ours. We must have the humility to allow God to shape our lives as we learn from the Bible how he wants us to live. We like Isaiah may think that our “temple…has been burned with fire, and all that we treasured lies in ruins.” The message of Isaiah, indeed of the whole Bible, is that God renews, that he rekindles the burnt out and revives the lifeless.
Sometimes, however, we still struggle to hope. We cry out with Isaiah: “After all this, O Lord, will you hold yourself back? Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure?” (Isaiah 64:12).
We grieve. We lament injustice. We question God’s presence. Then he acts. He provides. We awaken and remember: He is the potter, we are the clay. We submit. He shapes us in his image.
God of grace and glory, remember your saving acts in history. Act again. Amaze us with your transforming power. Remove our blinders; perhaps you act now and we fail to see because we do not understand what you want. Forgive us and help us to forgive others. Help us to know what to say and to do. Make us your messengers in our age. In Jesus’ name, Amen.