Feeling pagan? Maybe it's time for your breakthrough too
My brother Dan encouraged me to read Isaiah 45 today. As the French say, it’s incroyable!
I’m starting to whisper under my breath, and soon you might find me shouting the old classic song, “Jesus is a Waymaker.” It’s true.
Say those very words out loud and you might expect to see people’s eyes roll back into their heads. Immediate power downs. Blushing at the cheeks. I understand. These words, of real meaning, need to be made fresh again for people everywhere, from pre to post faith.
I suspect in any eye-rolling competition to do with talk about the Divine, God would win. Oh how he must cringe at our cliches, hang ups, false perceptions, and superstitious banter. Proof in my pudding? Said passage from Isaiah.
The people of God can get really cushy. Comfortable with their concepts of who they are and what they should be like. And like all people who get lazy, crumbs collect on the couch; fat bunches around arteries and organs; and there’s that stench that sticks to the carpet and clothes. It’s happened all throughout history. God doesn’t so elevate his chosen ones as to let them rot in their complacency. Have you ever paid attention about what he did with Israel?
He whipped them into shape, and we’re not talking treadmills. We’re talking binding, breaking, re-throwing and re-vitalizing the clay on the potter’s wheel. We’re talking recreation that came with some fiery ordeal. He removed the obstacle of their stubborn self-sufficiency and revamped their bored and religious expectation of what “God” is by flushing his people from the land, hiding them in exile for 70 years as foreigners under a hegemony that makes current world powers taste like milk toast, and using said power structures to re-align their thinking.
Cyrus the Great, leader of one of the most powerful empires in history (of a region that includes modern Iran) became the arm of the Lord to accomplish the will of heaven when he released the exiles of Israel back to their ravaged and devastated nation to rebuild and make new on the promise to be God’s people, and all that implies and means.
The great invisible Hand behind it all, the one at the potter’s wheel not only strong, calloused, able. Gentle too, with a few tricks up the sleeve, always open and proficient at delivering nuance and wonder.
(from the New Revised Standard Version)
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes,
to open doors before him –
and the gates shall not be closed:
I will go before you and level the mountains,
I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,
I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the LORD,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
For the sake of my servant Jacob,
and Israel my chosen,
I call you by your name,
I surname you, though you do not know me.
I am the LORD, and there is no other;
besides me there is no god.
I arm you, though you do not know me,
so that they may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is no one besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no one besides me:
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe;
I the LORD do all these things.
Shower, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness;
let the earth open, that salvation may spring up,
and let it cause righteousness to sprout up also;
I the LORD have created it.
Woe to you who strive with your Maker,
earthen vessels with the potter!
Does the clay say to the one who fashions it, “What are you making”?
or “Your work has no handles”?
Woe to anyone who says to a father, “What are you begetting?”
or to a woman, “With what are you in labor?”
Thus says the LORD,
the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker:
Will you question me about my children,
or command me concerning the work of my hands?
I made the earth,
and created humankind upon it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.
I have roused Cyrus in righteousness,
and I will make all his paths straight;
he shall build my city
and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,
says the LORD of hosts.
Thus says the LORD:
The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia,
and the Sabeans, tall of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours,
they shall follow you;
they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will make supplication to you, saying,
“God is with you alone, and there is no other;
there is no god besides him.”
Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
O God of Israel, the Savior.
All of them are put to shame and confounded,
the makers of idols go in confusion together.
But Israel is saved by the LORD
with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
to all eternity.
For thus says the LORD,
who created the heavens
(he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
(he established it;
he did not create it a chaos,
he formed it to be inhabited!):
I am the LORD, and there is no other.
I did not speak in secret,
in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
“Seek me in chaos.”
I the LORD speak the truth,
I declare what is right.
Assemble yourselves and come together,
draw near, you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge –
those who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
that cannot save.
Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the LORD?
There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is no one besides me.
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”
Only in the LORD, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;
all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.
In the LORD all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.