I read Isaiah 1 this morning. It's a powerful passage, one that is often quoted in justice-oriented circles because of it's condemnation of empty religious rituals and insistence that righteousness means helping the oppressed, defending the cause of orphans and fighting for the rights of widows. Good stuff. But, hoo boy. It's kinda dumb to read scripture as a way to defend your own position (even when you're right) and condemn others who you don't think measure up. Judgement much?
Of course, when we read the Bible, we need to keep the original audience in mind, remember that this was written to certain people, in a certain social and cultural context, at a certain point in history. To read the Bible as a devotional, only focused on what it has to say to us today, is to obfuscate the truth of scripture, stripping it of its original meaning and twisting it to be all about MEEEEEE. The Bible deserves to be studied, and we should take the time to figure out what the original author was actually trying to communicate to the original audience, instead of what we feel God might be saying to us through the passage.
However, the Holy Spirit does often speaks to us through scripture, convicting us of things in our own hearts and lives. It was Isaiah 1:5-6 that caught my attention today:
Why do you continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. You are battered from head to foot–covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds–without any soothing ointments or bandages.
You can hear God's anguish and exasperation in this passage, like a parent pleading with their wayward child. But I could see myself in this passage too. How often do I make life difficult for myself by foolishly choosing what I think will make me feel better in the moment? How often do I put things off, or snap at my children, or grab another brownie, only to regret it when it comes back to bite me later? The thing is, I usually know it's a bad idea when I'm doing it, and yet I do it anyway.
Your head is injured, and your heart is sick.
I can't say that this is the first time this has occurred to me. I'm a firstborn, and my aggravating lack of perfection has irritated me since, well, at least middle school. (I think I thought I was perfect before that.) But one of the things that occurred to me as I was praying about this was that maybe, instead of just praying for God to give me the strength to be Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way), I should pray for God to heal me.
Maybe I make the choices I do because something in my heart or mind is still sick or wounded, and like an addict, I am trying to self-medicate with choices that make me feel better for a moment, but are ultimately not healthy. I have been completely justified by Christ, but my heart and mind are still under construction, still being renewed. Call it my flesh or whatever, if that better fits your theology, but the point remains: I'm not perfect yet. I have proof!
And maybe, if I asked God for healing instead of just the strength to muscle through, I would have more patience with myself, extend a bit more grace. Healing is a process, transformation doesn't take place overnight, and God seldom does things in a hurry, even when we throw temper tantrums and demand that he fix things Right. Now. Maybe God is more concerned about what we will learn in the process of being transformed than he is in having a mint collection of shiny, perfect people completely free of blemishes, regrets and scars.
What about you? Have you experienced this? How?