God’s Ways are not our Ways: Ruminations on Isaiah 55:8-9 for the Third Sunday in Lent.


The Psalm (even thought it isn’t one) appointed for this Sunday is from Isaiah 55, one of my favorite portions of scripture. For those of us who have earned our bread as theologians and ministers of the church, and who sometimes assume an unhealthy knowledge and familiarity with the ways of God, there is a word here we need to hear again and again:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways

and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What can we know of God’s ways that are not merely a projection of our own hopes and desires? The God we worship is very often an idol of our own imagination, carefully constructed to advance our interests and causes.

It is just at this point, I believe, that much of Mainline Christianity went off the rails. We started speaking of God in general, and not of God “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Even less did we want to talk about the crucified God, a scandal in New Testament times and no less one today (1 Corinthians 1:23 ff).

But if we can know anything about the ways of God, which are not our ways, it is in the Crucified One. For this is the form in which he has chosen to show us himself.

Karl Barth, writing on this subject, writes,

“We have to see what Peter had to see, namely, that there is no flight or escape to another Christ in another and more radiant form, because it is in this (crucified) form that He is the temporal and eternal truth which encounters us. He encounters us in this form, or not at all. But if this is so, we have to accept the total otherness and strangeness and isolation of God in Him and His isolation He speaks remorselessly of the God whose thoughts are not ours, nor his ways ours (Isaiah 55:8), who is not directed by us, by whom we ourselves must be directed, whom we can only recognize as our Lord and Judge, and before whom we must acknowledge the worthlessness of all our thoughts and beliefs and dreams of what is meant by God or divine. It is of this God that the Crucified speaks. And He does so as this God alone can Himself speak of Himself.” (Church Dogmatics, 4.3.1, p 415-416)

It is this God, the Crucified One, whom we prepare to encounter in the coming weeks of Lent and what is to follow.
(Picture: William Blake, The Ancient of Days)

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