Unlimited Hope, Expansive Mercy, Abundant Pardon: Isaiah 55:1-13

DSC02915This is a guest post from Jill Clingan, one of my co-editors with Practicing Families.

I have never really liked these verses from Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

In fact, when choosing the scripture to write about for the third week of Lent, I didn’t even consider the text from Isaiah 55 at first.  Once I read verses 8-9, I could see nothing else, and all I could remember was hearing this passage as a religious cliché in contexts that made me uncomfortable and even angry:

A teenage boy commits suicide after years of struggling with depression:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” says the Lord.

A woman’s heart breaks from yet another miscarriage:
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

A cancer diagnosis.
A divorce.
A wildfire.
A refugee.
A breaking heart.
Walls.
Racism.
Hate.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

But this, this is not the God I believe in.  I do not believe in a God of religious clichés, but when I read and actually absorbed the words surrounding this text, I realized that these verses are anything but a trite cliché with which to toss a spiritual meaning over disaster, disease, or despair.  

Instead of an inane answer to life’s struggles, these verses offer unlimited hope, expansive mercy, and abundant pardon.  

Isaiah 55 is a passage of verbs.  To a nation in exile, God tells his people:

Come.
Eat.
Delight.
Listen.
Seek.
Forsake.
Return.

And when God’s people come, eat, delight, listen, seek, forsake, and return, God promises this:

“For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands.  Instead of the thorn shall come the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:12-13 NRSV).  

And when we, also God’s people, are in our own exiles of disaster or disease or despair, God extends to us–not a shallow religious cliché–but a deep promise of hope and mercy and pardon.  He invites us to come, eat, delight, listen, seek, forsake, return, and in return God promises that we will “go out in joy, and be led back in peace.”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

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One thought on “Unlimited Hope, Expansive Mercy, Abundant Pardon: Isaiah 55:1-13

  1. This text should not only be understood in light of the verses that come afterwards, but those before as well:
    6
    “Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call upon him while he is near;
    7
    let the wicked forsake his way,
    and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
    let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
    and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

    The necessity of repentance can not be ignored if we are to move on and receive the blessings promised by God.

    Verse 7 especially sets the stage for, provides the context for, the actual comprehensible content of verses 8-9.

    The willingness of God to forgive those who repent and humbly return to full submission to the expressed will of God is the prerequisite to understanding exactly how God’s ways are superior to those of humans. Jesus understood this completely and absolutely in every facet of his ministry. His gospel began with the words: “repent and believe the good news.” The Pharisees’ gospel was something like “get out of the way so we can begin to rule over our enemies, both the gentiles and other sinners like you.” They did not acknowledge this particular superiority in the thought, and scriptural reflection, of God’s Word. We often do not comprehend, consent to, and respond as we should to God’s desire to accept sinners either. We do not always respond as we should, but we need to first affirm the necessity of repentance and submission to the will of God as recorded in scripture if our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees. If we think we can jump over the repentance part and move on to the blessings of God we probably won’t experience the latter. There seems to be a lot of this mistaken mentality among those immersed in the old General Conference experience and mentality–a somewhat superficial reading of scripture while deciding for ourselves what is right and necessary. Not that I’m saying the author is from that context. And hey, just about everyone misquotes these Isaiah texts as saying things they don’t actually say.

    In any case, Isaiah 55 does not say we just can’t understand God’s ways and will, but that we are often unwilling to accept them. This is true both in that we are not as willing as God to accept those who have sinned and repented, but also that we are often unwilling to humbly repent and submit ourselves to the will of God in order to be accepted by him and restored to the blessings He will give to those in subservient faith relationship with Him.
    All the best to all in Christ!

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