Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
Scholar John Goldingay (of Fuller Theological Seminary) says, “The fall of [Jerusalem] and the exile of many of its leaders was… not merely a chance experience of hardship or a period of testing like that of Job. It was a period of punishment the… prophets and the [Law of Moses] warned would come to it…. [This fall] presupposes that there can be a link between the wrong that people do and the trouble they experience. This link is not merely an inherent process of cause and effect but one that reflects a personal involvement on the part of [the LORD God], who deliberately brings about the calamity that punishes wrongdoing. [It] also presuppose a link between religion and politics. The God of Israel is one who is involved in the affairs of national and political history: ‘God’ means someone involved in politics. Further, [it] presuppose that sin is a corporate and not just an individual matter. So are guilt, punishment and restoration.” (John Goldingay, The Message of Isaiah 40-55: A Literary-Theological Commentary, 16, emphasis mine.)
Years ago, I remember hearing about tornadoes that struck Minneapolis, MN. The tornado followed a path from outside the urban core and headed toward the downtown area. In it’s path was a Luther church, who just happened to be holding a convention to decide if people who have a homosexual identity or lifestyle are qualified to be in pastoral ministry. The tornado ended up striking the church building and damaging it’s roof. A pastor from the city, not associated with this denomination, published an article interpretting the tornado strike as a warning from God that he did not approve of their actions in relation to homosexuality. You can read more about it here.
Was this a situation where God caused the tornado to discipline? Or, was it just a random tornado that just happened to strike at the time and place of this convention? How do we wrestle with God’s oversight over history and how governance, justice, and discipline is given by him? I think it's impossible for us, as humans, to know. There are many acts that are contrary to God happening day-in-day-out that tornadoes and such aren't sent toward. The workings of the world are far more complicated than this interpretation. Is it possible that God uses such things to get people's attention. Yeah, it's possible. But, I don't think it's our place to decide if it is so or not. Ultimately, God knows far more than me, which I try to flesh-out in the following paragraphs.
As a human being, when I read a description like the one Goldingay gives (above), I teeter between wanting one or the other of these two realities, or none of them — and something different altogether. On one hand, I don’t want to be a puppet, not having any choice, and God dictating everything that happens. Yet, on the other hand, I want someone more capable than me and millions of other people, to direct the path of history. But, having both a choice and having God direct the path of history seems impossible.
It seems mind blowing to us humans that both of those realities could exist together. It is tempting to think the reality we are given is messed up.
We critique and say God needed to show up sooner here — instead, he showed up late or not at all. We critique and say that God made a risky move giving so many people freedom to choose(e.g. “Just look what they’ve done with that freedom!”). We say that God should have limited some people’s freedom (e.g. Hitler, Osama bin Laden). We want freedom, but we also want God to rectify history, as long as God doesn’t require anything specific of us. We are tempted to imagine a reality different than the one God has gifted to us. We are tempted to want a reality in which we, as humans, rule; and God oversees and keep the game in check — but, from the sidelines, and we don’t want him to call too many fouls or throw too many flags.
I get it. Many of us have had situations that have happened in our lives where, from our vantage point, we thought God should have showed-up or stepped-in sooner. Many of us have had situations where we wish God would have dramatically stopped or hindered a person from committing evil. And, we don’t like the concrete consequences of actions we take, that aren’t life-giving. If we overspend, we hate the consequence of debt and the feeling of enslavement. If we slander a person, we hate the consequence of ostracism or mistrust that ensues.
It is easy from our viewpoint, and our time in history, to think that God should govern the world better. In one sense, that should be no surprise. Humans are created, finite, limited beings. We are subject to the limits of created beings. We view life from that vantage point; and we make judgments from that vantage point.
But, in another sense, this should be a surprise reaction. Because we are humans, who are finite and limited. We seek-out and long for someone we can depend on — someone who can provide what we cannot. And, because we are dependable beings, we are by nature meant to live in a humble state with God. We are to live to our bounds, but always with an eye to the bigger picture — that all of history is dependent on God’s oversight. When we view life from this vantage point, we still only see what we see, but we live in dependence on one who has a far better vantage point.
God has had a front seat to the history of humanity from it’s beginning. When it comes to governance, justice, or discipline, who would you rather have making decisions? Someone who can see all things, and knows all things? Or, someone who can only see a few things, and knows only some things? Our hearts will probably reflect our answer. If pride has infected our hearts, we might answer with the second choice. But, if we have accepted a relationship of complete dependence on God — then we will probably answer with the first choice.
The people of Israel struggled with this all throughout their history. And, their story is our story as well. For, we all follow after the pride of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. We, like Israel think we know better than God. We, like Israel think God’s blessings will continue, regardless of our intimate connection to the one who created and called us. We, like Israel sometimes need God’s discipline to bring us back to the blessings God wants us to have. We, like Israel have the promises of God — that he has our best in mind — that he wants to give us life and have it abundantly. And, we, like Israel need to recognize that life, and life abundantly is only possible under God’s care.
We may not understand why evil is allowed to seemingly go unchecked in our world. We may not fully understand why God does not step in when we think he should. We may not fully understand if a situation in the world is a result of our sin or the sin of another. But, we do know that if we are clinging to God and his way of life — his governance, justice, and discipline is not willie-nilly. God’s governance, justice, and discipline is done by an all wise God, who ultimately wants the best for his people; and longs to speak tenderly to them, as he did to his people in Isaiah 40:2.
In the end, God know far better than me or anyone else — how history should be governed, judged, and disciplined. It isn’t always easy in the moment, but in it the end, his ways are wiser and higher and ultimately, for his good — which turns out to be for our good.