Sunday, October 15, 2017

My thoughts are not your thoughts, ... says the Lord

Isaiah 55: 8

I have heard this verse misused so many times that I feel I must, if I haven’t already, exposit these verses in their context to make clear just what God is saying here.

Remember: “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.”

What God is not saying is that his logic is not our logic.  There is no logic, but God’s logic.  He is the ground of logic.  To think illogically is not to think in some sort of “godlike” or godly way or to think “beyond” God’s logic.  Humans and God think alike, though they do not always think the same things or have the same amount of data. Humans aren’t omniscient. 

Classical theologians and many ancient philosophers believed that the ability to think was God’s image in humankind.  This is false.  It is a part of God’s image in humans.  We do think, when we think correctly, as God does.

The image of God in humans is also much broader. We are spiritual beings.  We are eternal beings.  We are emotional beings. We are creators (lower case c). We create new things from existing materials.

We have the capacity and need to worship, to love, to think about eternity and our eternal destiny.  We are also creatures, who have a will and can accomplish things.

God’s logic is the only logic.

So what does this passage in fact say about “God’s thoughts”?

The context of verse 8 is verse 7.  What sort of thoughts do humans play with that God rejects?  Wicked thoughts! Unrighteous thoughts! 

In fact in Hebrew the word for “thoughts” (makh-ash-aw-baw') is intentions, purposes.  Your aims are not my aims.  In Hebrew parallelism is very important.  Parallelism means that in two parts of one verse two different words are used as synonyms (in this case).  The other word to parallel “thoughts” or intentions is “paths” or “roads” (derek).  In the Old Testament believers are to “walk in God’s ways”, in his paths.  This means that they are to do righteous deeds, to obey his laws, to do good to others.  The walk (“halak”) of a person is the sum total of all his or her actions.  A “wise” person “walks” in God’s “ways”, i.e. his laws, decrees, statutes and commands.  Though Hebrew wisdom is not primarily a “thought” related concept, it also requires cognitive understanding of what God has said and desires.

Isaiah has been busy declaring God’s judgment to the people of Judah and Israel.  He is using a familiar approach in the Old Testament of God as a judge in a heavenly courtroom calling his people to account for their misdeeds.

We humans have a capacity for self-deception.  We convince ourselves that God winks at our misdeeds.

We much prefer the idea that God’s logic is somehow “metalogical”, beyond human logic, or that he is the “Good beyond good and evil”.  It’s easier to say we can’t understand what God wants, than it is to admit we have done wrong and face our wrongdoing, and repent of it.

God is warning Israel that he won’t wink at their idolatry.  In fact, finally Nebuchadnezzar carries Judah off into exile as punishment for their wrongs.  God doesn’t think as we do, in so far as he does not overlook wrongly doing.

However, as is typical of Isaiah, there is no condemnation without possible reconciliation.  God is willing to forgive the wrong doings of those who confess their misdeeds and repent, turn from them to God.

While the words of false prophets fall to the ground unfulfilled, God’s words will be fulfilled.  God has a purpose in judgment of wrong doing: the restoration of the one who does wrong. vss 12, 13

So, please don’t use this passage to say that God somehow thinks differently than we do.  He thinks the same way, i.e. uses the same logic.  Where his logic and our logic differs is in our ability to excuse what he has declared wrong.

Isaiah 55 New International Version (NIV)
Invitation to the Thirsty
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
“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.
As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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