“But your dead will live, Lord;
their bodies will rise—
let those who dwell in the dust
wake up and shout for joy—
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
the earth will give birth to her dead.”
For whatever reasons, I’m prone to all-or-nothing thinking. I don’t know what mix of nature and nurture has created this. I know that it’s tied to a sense of idealism (which is mostly good, I think), but I also know that it has the tendency to distort my view of the world, because the world is rarely all-or-nothing. And so through counseling and contemplation and conversation, I’ve learned some tools that help me to catch this thinking before it really takes root and sends me off course.
But this is still something that requires vigilance. I’m still always in danger of being demoralized when things aren’t perfect, when I’m not perfect, when things are messy. Sometimes I want life to be more like a video game, where if you mess up, you can just go back to the start of the level and try again, as if the previous failed attempt never happened.
But life isn’t like a video game. We can never truly restart from the very beginning. Our communities have histories. Even at a person’s moment of birth, he or she exists in a family system, in a specific social location, within cultural constructs that have taken many centuries to build. The question before us is never really what we would do if we could start over; the question is always where we go from here.
The Israelite prophet Isaiah preached to his people in specific moments. Throughout his long ministry, he spoke words of judgment and doom and words of hope and restoration. He spoke to a nation that, like our own, had long-lived, deeply embedded sins that threatened its very identity from within. He spoke to a nation that was under threat from forces outside its borders. He spoke to a nation on the brink of destruction. He was unsparing in his truth-telling.
And Isaiah was just as adamant in proclaiming God’s words of hope to a frightened and wayward people. Isaiah could see that on the other side of decay and defeat lay restoration. Isaiah could see that God’s faithfulness was the one thing that no internal strife and no invading army could ever destroy.
The words of Isaiah pointed ultimately to Jesus of Nazareth, who suffered on behalf of Israel, who suffered and was judged on behalf of the whole world. The words of Isaiah remind us today that God remains with his people in the midst of suffering, that God remains faithful to his people even when we actively work against his vision for the world. The words of Isaiah remind us that, on the other side of death (both literal and figurative) lie renewal and new life.
As we wrestle with our long history of death-dealing, as we wrestle with new challenges and anxieties and threats, may we be participants in new life. May we be redeemed and restored through the work of the God who is always faithful.