Tuesday, 17 November 2020

When God is Able But Not Willing (Isaiah 59:1-2)

About seven centuries before Christ, Assyria was rising as a world power hostile to God’s covenant people, who had shamefully divided into two dysfunctional kingdoms, each drifting farther and farther away from the Lord’s standard of righteousness. During this period Isaiah the son of Amoz is called to be God’s spokesman. Along with a message of messianic hope for the future, he issues warnings of impending judgment against Israel and Judah, as well as surrounding nations.

In the 1st verse of the 59th chapter Isaiah announces: “Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear” (NKJV, emp. added). God’s lack of response to the cries of his people and refusal to deliver them from their oppressive enemies has nothing to do with whether or not he is capable. He is neither powerless nor indifferent. But there is something keeping him at bay. The next verse reads: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.” 

The English word “hear” in this text is translated from the Hebrew שָׁמַע [shema],

with nuances including hear, listen, understand, heed, and hearken unto. The Jewish confessional prayer, known simply as the Shema, declares: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deut. 6:4). This speaks of a receptive and responsive hearing.

God is omniscient. He sees, hears, and knows all things. However, for those who are unreceptive and disobedient, he will not hear responsively, i.e., he will not hearken unto their pleas. It is not because he does not care. It is not due to a lack of love. “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16a); “But God demonstrates his own love toward us …” (Rom. 5:8); “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us” (Eph. 2:4). 

Why, then, does God allow this separation from those he loves? Why does he close his ears to their calls? Could it be because of his holiness? As Habakkuk observes, concerning God, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness” (Hab. 1:13a). God is so holy and infinitely pure, he can have no close association with that which is sinful. His very nature demands this separation.

But God still loves us anyway. “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:6-11).

Sin separates. The love of God through Christ reconciles. When we are not as close to the Lord as we would like to be or ought to be or used to be, he is not the one who has moved (Heb. 13:5). Although God is able to do extraordinary things, he will not hear and he will not save when his just and holy nature does not allow it.

The good news is, we do not have to be estranged from God because of our sins. He offers forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ. As penitent believers we can have our sins washed away by Christ’s blood in baptism, raised to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). If your sins are causing a separation between you and God, take advantage of his gracious offer of forgiveness and reconciliation.

--Kevin L. Moore

* FHU chapel talk 19 Oct. 2020


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Image credit: Tran Tuan Viet’s photo of Vietnam’s “Golden Bridge,” https://e.vnexpress.net/news/travel/places/golden-bridge-shot-wins-top-architecture-photo-prize-for-vietnam-4093088.html

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