Comment (16th January 2011)
“Repent, or perish,” said Jesus in our gospel reading. Isaiah spells out what that means, speaking not just to the people of Israel, but to all of us. The heart of his message is in verses 9-11, where we all are invited to turn from our own ways of acting and thinking and to seek to live the way God wants. The result will be forgiveness and acceptance; what happens if we do not receive these things is not spelt out in this passage, but Isaiah is clear that there is an urgent need to act.
The chapter begins with an invitation to all to come, and to receive all they need and more – water, food, luxuries (wine, milk, the richest of fare). More than physical needs are being addressed here: this is an invitation to life in all its fulness in the presence of God. The previous chapter contained a description of the new age God promises; it is this new age that we are being invited to become part of.
God offers to enter into an everlasting covenant with us, joining us to him for ever. David is referred to; his reign was the beginning of a golden age for Israel, and we are encouraged to look forward to a time when that foretaste would be fulfilled in everlasting peace and prosperity under the rule of God’s anointed king (the ‘Messiah’).
The key to receiving this is to ‘come’ to God, to ‘listen’ to him, to ‘seek’ him and to ‘call’ on him. The day of opportunity will not last for ever – so act while he is near! And the action required is not only worship and prayer; they are to repent, to turn from their wrong ways of behaving and to turn to God and adopt the ways he requires. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness from God. Forgiveness deals with sin; the pardon is free for the sinner, but not for God – Isaiah 53 told us how the ‘suffering servant’ would take our sins upon himself. But God’s purpose is to restore our relationship with him. Forgiveness is an essential element in that, and so is repentance, for if we do not turn to God there can be no relationship with him and no point in his forgiveness. (It is not the same for us: there is a point in our forgiving people who sin against us and don’t repent, for when we forgive we release ourselves from the bitterness that binds us unhealthily to them.)
One important factor in turning to God is the realisation that God is far above us in his ‘thoughts’ and ‘ways’. On the moral level, we all fall short of God’s perfect standards, and his thoughts and ways are not tainted with the wrong that ours are. But there is more to it than that. God’s knowledge and power and wisdom are far beyond our comprehension, and we do not understand what he is doing or planning. The big questions of life about suffering and evil, the big questions of our own lives when we ask ‘Why?’ but get no answer, are questions to us simply because our understanding is so limited. They are not problems for God. We have to turn to him in faith, without having all the answers. That is the only way to Life.
1) How do we come to God, listen to him, seek him and call on him?
2) How can our thoughts and ways become more what they ought to be?