Faith is like falling in love. All the explanations in the world won’t take the place of living it.
Isaiah, the son of Amoz, was one of the greatest of the prophets.
When we begin reading Isaiah, we are reading words that have been preserved for 2700 years, more or less. That is something to think about right there. We don’t know a great deal about Isaiah, the man. We cannot even be sure that all of the writings gathered together under the heading of Isaiah’s name can be attributed to him. In fact, it is far more likely they were not–some passages were no doubt from another time, added, collected, edited, preserved by the faithful, brought to us over centuries of faith.
The first chapter of Isaiah presents an indictment of the ancient people of Israel. The prophet is speaking the case that God brings against the people, against their behavior, their practices, their hypocrisy. Of course, it doesn’t take much honesty or humility to recognize that all of the same indictments apply to us, either literally or figuratively.
The prophet, speaking on behalf of the Almighty, declares that God is tired of sacrifices, of offerings, of empty rituals. We hear that God wants people to be just, to correct oppression, to defend the fatherless, to protect the weak. And we hear that God is offering cleansing and forgiveness.
Ok, we say, all of that is very much in line with our faith practice, we understand it. Well, here’s something a bit unusual to think about–all of this is being said 700 years before Christ is born.
What is so odd about that?
For starters, most Christians walk around with a pretty simple, black and white understanding of scripture–before Jesus there was the law and judgment, and after the resurrection there is forgiveness and walking in the Spirit. One thing, then the other. Old Testament, then New Testament. One problem, though–this passage won’t fit that arrangement.
What does that mean, might we wonder?
For one thing, there was no switch being flipped when we went from the Old Testament. It isn’t a room in the dark, with someone suddenly turning on the lights when we get to the New Testament. It is more like a train, jerking and rattling on the track maybe, but making steady progress toward leaving the rules behind and rolling with the Spirit all along.
Contrary to what many well meaning folk seem to believe, there is plenty of grace to be found in the Old Testament, even in the middle of a prophetic indictment like this passage.
For another thing, if God was already spreading the word of forgiveness so boldly several hundred years before the crucifixion, maybe we need to revisit what happened at the cross. We need to focus less on explaining what happened and focus more on living in the Spirit that came from it.
It’s not the explanation, it’s the application.
Again, maybe faith is like falling in love. All the explanations in the world won’t take the place of living it.