God’s Ways

Tornado Damage

Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’ve noticed what the Lord is saying here. I’ll bet that you have, too. If God thought and acted the way that I would if I were God, he would have made me a couple of inches taller, a lot more athletic, and with a better memory than I have now. I wouldn’t need glasses. I wouldn’t have occasional pain in my back and my knees. In fact, I wouldn’t be aging at all. I would be young in body and mature in mind.

That’s a rather self-centered way of looking at things. We can do better than that. If God thought and acted more like us, then scores of people would not have died in mass shootings in Texas and Las Vegas these past weeks. We wouldn’t have all this racial tension in our country. We wouldn’t be so divided politically, economically, and morally. As a species, we would all get along.

If God’s thoughts and ways were like ours, then hurricanes would not have slammed Texas and Florida and destroyed millions of dollars in property; wild fires would not have raged across California’s Napa Valley, killing forty-two; little children would not go to bed hungry in any part of the world for any reason. If God’s thoughts were our thoughts…

Now here’s the problem with all that thinking. We are putting the blame on the wrong set of thoughts and ways. This is the world we humans have refashioned for ourselves against God’s thoughts and ways. He planned a perfect paradise for us to enjoy. We spoiled it with our fall into sin. We keep making it worse with our selfishness. It’s true that if we had our way we wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of the mess we have made. But what good would that do? That would only teach us to be content to be separated and estranged from him in this poor counterfeit paradise we try to construct for ourselves. That would only encourage us to continue on the path of rebellion. The way that we think apart from God ruins everything now, even when we think we are making progress. Eventually it leads to death and hell.

Because God is a good Father, he doesn’t go with our ideas. He has better ones. His idea is to let us feel the consequences of our sinful mess. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” I should probably visit the doctor or the dentist on a regular basis, whether I am feeling well or not, just to get a check-up. More often, I don’t go until I am feeling some kind of symptoms. There is a pain somewhere that tells me something isn’t right.

People tend not to seek the Lord until they feel some kind of discomfort–an uneasy conscience, a broken relationship, a nagging illness, a personal tragedy. Author C.S. Lewis explained that, “Pain is God’s megaphone.” It makes us aware of sin, a broken relationship with God, and leads us toward repentance. That’s not necessarily because the pain is the result of some specific sin in our lives, though sometimes it might be. Rather, it wakes us up to our brokenness. It alerts us to our neediness. It sends us looking for God until we hear him speaking in his word.

But here is the real reason his thoughts, his ways, are better: He is the God who saves. The whole context of this chapter of Isaiah is God’s invitation to the feast of salvation. First he pictures the gourmet banquet the Lord has laid out for his people, the finest food and drink. He offers it “without money and without cost.” He promises that if we listen to him, “your soul will live.” Then he explains the picture. Even if we have been wicked and are guilty of evil, he invites us to turn to the Lord “and he will have mercy,” and “he will freely pardon.” Mercy, pardon, forgiveness freely given: This is the promise God makes when we listen to his word.

This is how our Lord thinks: He is looking for whom to forgive, not whom to blame or who should pay. He has already blamed his Son, and Jesus paid everything for everyone with his death on the cross. God wants to reconcile with us, not punish us. He wants to be our friend, not our Accuser and Judge. He has made receiving his grace effortless and free. That’s not how we think. That’s not our way. But it’s better, higher than the heavens are above the earth. It’s an invitation to trust, to trust the God whose ways are full of such grace.

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