A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Divine Graffiti

Isaiah 49:8-18

The latter chapters of the book of Isaiah are written in the context of Israel's exile in Babylon. In 586 B.C. the southern kingdom of Judah was conquered and most of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were led off to a strange land to live. Exiled from their homeland and wondering why God had allowed them to suffer so, these latter chapters in the prophet are written in part to encourage God's people Israel to remain faithful in spite of their circumstances and in spite of the fact that they may wonder, at times, what good their faith is for them as they live their lives.

There were those in Israel who likely blamed God for their misery, but first they needed to blame themselves. Their exile was their fault. For several centuries they continually violated God's law, they worshiped false gods, lived immorally, put up with and even supported corrupt leadership; and they trusted more in themselves than in the divine one who had called them. Now they were away from their homeland living in a strange place. Often, the first step in dealing with a problem is to admit that you are the one who created it.

Nevertheless, having said that, at some point, God's people were surely wondering when enough was enough. Of course, they had made the mess they now found themselves in, but when would the price be paid, when would penance be sufficient, and at what point would Israel be allowed to begin again?

It is not easy to put life in a nice and neat order; neither is it possible to understand completely how God works in each and every situation. For we mortals time flies when we are having fun, and it drags on in the midst of difficult days. God, who stands outside of time in eternity, sees from a vantage point we can only wonder about. We wish God would work in our time, but God is the one who moves with us in time expecting that we continue to trust and live in faith, even though we wonder when and where and how we might find relief. If the people of God are to be faithful, they must be patient.

Through Isaiah God promises that in his divine time, he will deliver his people. It may not come soon enough for them, but it will arrive nonetheless:

Thus says the LORD: In a time of favour I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you; I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages; saying to the prisoners, 'Come out', to those who are in darkness, 'Show yourselves.' They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will turn all my mountains into a road, and my highways shall be raised up 49:8-11).

God does indeed promise deliverance and restoration; in the meantime they must know and trust that God is with them. God has not abandoned his people in the past and he will not do so in the present. There are those who say that the Almighty has forgotten; that perhaps God has moved on to another people, but Isaiah insists that this is not true.

Can a woman forget her nursing-child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me (49:15-16).

It surely seems impossible for a mother to forget the child she carried and gave birth to. Sadly, there are some who do, even though most do not. For most mothers the thoughts of a child are always close at hand even when they are away from home. But God's love and compassion for us are deeper and more profound than the most loving and compassionate mom. The analogy of God inscribing our names on his hands is not an image meant to convey that God has to do something so he will not forget us; rather it is meant to demonstrate that God loves us so much, that he purposely puts us in front of him because of the joy God has in loving us.

Most homes have pictures of family on the walls and other places throughout the house, not for the purpose of having to be reminded of whom we are related to, but rather we display the images of those persons who mean so much to us. Photos of family members in our homes and in our wallets and purses do not serve as reminders; they are displays of love. We put their photos in prominent places precisely because we could never forget them.

And so it is in Isaiah. God has put our names before him, not because he is afraid of forgetting us, but it is a display of his love for us. And in knowing this, it serves as a reminder to us that in the midst of life and, yes, even in the midst of its difficulties, God has not forgotten about us, God has not abandoned us, God has not left us to ourselves.

God takes our lives and brings them into his life; and while the character of God never changes, God nevertheless journeys with us as we grow in relationship with him. Isaiah reminds us that God's divine graffiti does not serve as a reminder to God, but a rather it is a reminder to us that God is indeed with us.

And perhaps Isaiah 49 is a preview of a day, centuries later, when God in the flesh would have our names, our lives, inscribed into his hands with the nails of a cross.

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