Some thoughts on Isaiah 35
As we settle into the routines of life here there is more time for reflection. Whilst work and play continue to keep us very busy, I have found my thoughts occupied less by where I’m going or what Italian faux pas I’m currently making, and more by the reality of what we are encountering here. There is a particular passage that God has been laying on my heart since we begun this journey back in England during our training week. The words and imagery of Isaiah 35 have been of continual encouragement and significance to me, so I’d love to share it with you…
(Please note that I have omitted some verses or sections of verses purely to keep this post relatively brief, but I have tried to get all the key elements of the passage in here – having said that, though, I really recommend you give the whole thing a read!)
(1) The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
At a time when the world seems dark and hopeless, this passage reminds us of the joy of God’s redemption plan. At the outset is the promise that there is hope for the future, even when the present seems desolate.
(3) Encourage (/strengthen) the exhausted, steady the staggering knees; say to those with a fearful (anxious/ panic-stricken) heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Indeed your God will come, with divine retribution he will come to save you.”
This is our call, to strengthen and steady those who are suffering, weary of this world, persecuted and rejected by society. Our faith motivates our hope in the face of all this.
At this point, a side note – it can be hard to understand how a good God can exist whilst all of this evil does too. Whilst I am no experienced theologian, and this question merits a much more in-depth exploration than I have space to give it, I am struck by the biblical representation of God enthroned in heaven – as a lamb. This embodies the vulnerability and sacrifice of Jesus, our God come to earth as a refugee, persecuted from birth until his brutal, torturous, completely unjust murder at the hands of us. But the centre of the Christian faith, its most wonderful overcoming of evil, is exactly this – and the lamb symbolising this is glorified with cries of “worthy” in Revelation’s depiction of heaven. So, to sum up, as Christians I believe that our call is to bring in this heaven to the now: to glorify the worthy of the world – the persecuted, the distressed, the poor, those suffering at the hands of injustices and evil.
(5) Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. (6)Then the lame will leap like a deer, and the mute shout for joy.
I love this part! I, for one, am so blind to the reality of the suffering of my neighbour, so deaf to their voices dare they disrupt my own solitary comfortable existence. I see this human trait represented so acutely in our society at the moment and the attitudes that exist towards refugees. The imagery here gives me hope that this can change, that we can truly see and hear our brothers and sisters. And the healing that comes from that, for us all, is great. The promise given here speaks to me that one day the voiceless will shout for joy, and that those restrained by physical forces, finances, policies or prejudices, will find true freedom when the world is made right.
(6) Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand (mirage) will become a pool, the thirsty ground a bubbling spring.
The realities of reaching a destination country can often be starkly different to people’s expectations, much like a mirage. Instead of meeting arrivers with stringent security, with animosity, or with placards telling them we have no more capacity, the Lord’s kingdom welcomes everyone with an abundance of goodness and love that is more than enough for everyone. A never-exhausted generous overflow of love extending to everyone.
(8) A highway will be there: it will be called the Holy Way. It will be for those walk on that Way. The unclean (/wicked) will not journey on it, but it will be for the redeemed.
(9) No lion will be there, nor any ravenous beast; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and those the Lord has rescued will return.
This reiterates again and again the absence of evil in God’s kingdom, and only the presence of goodness. The image of us returning home to be reunited with our Heavenly Family is so joyful, and pertinent particularly to those who have lost their earthly home, family and friends.
(10) The ransomed of the Lord will return and will enter Zion with joyful singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
We end on one of the most joyful verses of poetry I’ve ever read. Really stop and ruminate on it. Being heavenly-minded is what motivates our action on earth. In the words of CS Lewis (because every Christian blog needs a quote from him in somewhere!), ‘A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.’
So, for me, this whole passage speaks of a better world, of justice, peace, and a community built on an abundance of love. As we reflect on that, my prayer is that it will shape the way we live now, as brothers and sisters from all walks of life, that together we might build that world here and now.