Summary: A look at Isaiah’s prophecy in light of conditional and onconditional realities.
One of the basic principles we are taught in mathematics is conditional logistics, otherwise known as “if….then…” statements. If A = B then B = A. Or if A=B and B=C then A=C. Okay – enough math (I know it makes some of you dizzy). Conditional statements are important, though, because they set up the basic framework of math. They are the tracks for the train.
In church, we hear all the time about our unconditional God. We hear about the God who sent his son Jesus the Christ to die for us without condition. We cling to the hope of Grace – that amazing reality that God forgives our sin through the blood of Christ spilled on our behalf. Grace seems to defy conditional logic. IF Sin=Death and Humans=sin THEN Christ=eternity. Wait….that’s not logical. No – it is not. It’s love. God’s love. And love is anything but logical.
Can an unconditional God have a conditional reality?
However, in this week’s lectionary Old Testament reading the If…Then statement comes out. Isaiah 58 was written approximately 587 BCE which was after Israel had been released from their long Babylonian captivity. The people were very unhappy. Oh sure, they were glad not to be slaves anymore, but disheartened and crabby. They didn’t have a temple anymore. Their culture, religion, government and food supplies were in a shambles. They were blaming each other and hurting themselves. You know how people get when they are disappointed. Grumble-city! Along comes the prophet to give them a message from God. He says:
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
"If you do away with the yoke of
oppression, with the pointing finger and
malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.”
So to all this complaining our God says “If….then.” IF you get rid of oppression and IF you feed and care for each other, THEN you will be in light and not darkness. Later the scripture goes on to say IF you keep the Sabbath, THEN you will find joy in God.”
God’s answer to the cries of the people of Israel is to say: "If you’re unhappy and you know it – stomp your feet! (stomp, stomp). If you’re willing to give of yourself and lift others up – you’ll be blessed! In other words – you’ve got the problem. You solve it! "
It is very similar to Luke 9:10-17 (the feeding of the 5,000) when the disciples tell Jesus the crowd is hungry and he says “You give them something to eat”, but then Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish so all can dine. God is telling them to stop oppressing, finger pointing and playing the blame game and then the light of the community can shine. But God also promises to be the light bringer, just as Jesus multiplied the fish.
So what can we make of these conditions? Is God still unconditional? You bet. The truth we see in this scripture is one of the most important things to learn in a developing Christian life: Grace is not conditional, but Growth is. Grace – the gift of God to us is without condition. BUT growth in Christ requires the IF’s to get to the THENS.
If you want God to love you – God already does. If you want God to forgive you – God already has. But if you want God to grow you as Christ’s disciple and if you want the peace of Christ, the joy of God, and the heaven on earth that is the Christian life, then you must be obedient. You must stop oppression and speak out against those who would batter, violate or isolate God’s children. You must stop finger pointing and learn to give to and forgive others. You must stop malicious talk and learn to lift in love.
Then you will have a life where you are not using your energy holding other people down for your own ego. You will have freedom because you are not holding onto the past pains and grudges that wound you. You will have joy because you’ll be sharing strengths with each other not just complaining about weaknesses. You will be a light people can use to find their way to God.
How do you start this growth in God? By prayer. The first thing God tells them to do is pray, and God promises to be there. After prayer, comes obedience – following God’s desires for our charity, generosity and active Christianity. After obedience comes justice. When the hungry are eating, when the victims are safe and when the wounds are healed the light will shine so brightly we will live in the noon of God forevermore.