Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with 88% Cocoa
Today’s Passage: Isaiah 59
First things first: remember that extended metaphor of the light at the end of the tunnel that I employed while discussing Isaiah 57? At the time, I felt a little odd framing the chapter that way, since it doesn’t use the words “light” or “dark” at all. But look at these lines from today’s chapter: “We hope for light, but behold, darkness, for brightness, but we walk in gloom. We grope along the wall like blind men, we grope like those who have no eyes” (59:9-10). It seems the metaphor hews a little closer to the source than expected.
As the metaphor suggests, the thrust of Isaiah’s message here is that Israel’s sin separates them from God. He spells it out right off the bat: “[Y]our iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear” (59:2). I feel like something in that verse is itching to get scratched, so at the risk of glossing over the metaphor where the children of Israel eat snake eggs and dress themselves in spiderwebs (vv.5-6), the prevalence of blood as a sign of wrongdoing early in the chapter (vv. 3, 7), or how injustice and falsehood go hand-in-hand throughout the chapter in the form of physical violence and verbal lies (vv. 3-4, 9, 13, 14), let’s focus in on this verse. In what sense does sin separate us from God?
First, God is omnipresent, so the separation isn’t physical. God is just as capable of acting in the space you occupy whether you’ve sinned there or not; as Isaiah says, “the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save” (59:1). Second, God is omniscient, so it’s not as if God somehow becomes ignorant of the content of your prayers while you sin. He knows what you’re asking for. However, when you do evil, it means you want something other than what God wants–or at least you want it enough to disregard what God wants, in favor of the other thing. Isaiah describes his people’s sin as “turning away from our God” (59:13). In this sense, sin hides God’s face from us, as verse 3 described. We don’t want to look at him, we don’t want to listen to him, so we turn away and plug our ears and do our own thing. Sin separates us from knowing God. Sin is, in part, willful ignorance.
Sin also separates us from God’s blessings. God knows our prayers whether we’re sinning or not, but when verse 2 says that “He does not hear,” I believe it means that he won’t grant us the things we pray for with evil motivations, and that he’s honestly kind of disgusted when we praise him with hollow or insincere words. According to James, God gives only good things and refuses to encourage us toward evil (James 1:12-17), and Jesus himself teaches us that God knows better than we ourselves what is best for us (Luke 11:10-12). Thus, if we ask God (for example) to slay our enemies and paint the walls with their blood, and God has something better in mind (and if there is something better, God certainly has it in mind), he won’t grant our request. To use Luke’s example, if we ask God for a fish and we just want to smack our brother with it, God may not give us the fish. He certainly won’t give us a snake, but he may wait until our hunger is stronger than our desire to smack our brother before he gives us what we asked for.
On that note, I’ve got to grab some lunch now, but I did want to mention how Isaiah identifies himself with the people of Israel in their sin. “[O]ur transgressions are with us, and we know our iniquities” (59:12), he says. To return to my cave metaphor, Isaiah may have a torch, but he knows that nothing but daylight will really save him and his countrymen from the darkness of sin. He understands that humans live in communal contexts, and God doesn’t simply save us individualistically for individual purposes. Isaiah’s in the same camp as the rest of the nation, hoping for an absent justice and a far-off salvation (59:11). “A Redeemer will come to Zion” (59:20), Isaiah says–and he knows Zion needs it.