Don’t Just Sit There God, Do Something!
Isaiah 63: 17-19; 64: 1-12.
Have you ever looked at life and wondered “Where is God?”
· When a father shoots his four children dead in their bed and then drowns himself...
· When airliners fall out of the sky with too much regularity...
· When we look at the violence in Bosnia, Rwanda, Palestine, and even our own cities...
· When we stand beside the bed of a loved one dying of cancer or another terminal disease and feel totally helpless...
· When we see a person devastated by the cruelty of others...
When these happen we want to scream, “Don’t just sit there God, do something!” Get off your throne on high, come down here and straighten out this world once and for all.”
Isaiah lived in such a time. Israel had been overrun and the temple destroyed in 587 BC. It is now about 535 BC Isaiah and many of the Jews have returned to Jerusalem, only to find widespread desolation such as they had never imagined. Once, as a young man, Isaiah had worshipped in the temple, experienced a vision of God on his throne and heard the call of God to preach to his people. Now, as an old man, Isaiah is standing with tears streaming down his cheeks as he looks at the rubble that was once the temple of God. The glory that had been God’s and Israel as his people is now reduced to nothing, nada, zilch.
Though her own sin had brought about her captivity and the destruction, Israel felt abandoned by God. In the last few verses of the 63rd chapter we see Israel even blaming God for her predicament: “Why O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you?” In other words, “God it is your fault that we sinned, not our fault. Do something God to make us do what is right. We are not even called by your name, we are no longer your people—we are a disgrace upon the earth.”
Destroyed as a people, her city and temple leveled, Israel cries out to God, “God, tear open the heavens and come down, that the mountain would tremble before you.” Isaiah, in this prayer, this passionate, pathos-filled plea before God recalls the trembling of Mt. Sinai when Moses received the law. Isaiah and the people want God to act in a dramatic manner that they have not seen but have heard about in the stories of Israel. They are at the bottom, life cannot get any worse. Their only help is in the God who has helped them so in the past.
There is just one problem: God did not answer as they desired. Yes, they were able to rebuild the temple and rededicate it in about 516 BC, and under Nehemiah they rebuilt the city walls in about 445 BC. However, they were not a free people, being under the Persian Empire, then the Greek, Egyptian, and eventually the Romans who destroyed the temple and city and ended the Jewish state in AD 70. From Malachi in about 400 BC until Jesus four centuries later there was no word from God. The Jews lived with the understanding that God had withdrawn his Spirit from them—they lived with an awesome silence of God for more than 400 years.
Fred Craddock said it best: “My problem with God has been God’s timidity, God’s quietness.”1 To be a believer in Jesus Christ, to live in relationship with God, is to live with the fact that much of the time we experience the absence of God more than the presence. We experience God more in the stillness and quiet and less in overt speech and actions. We want God to play the part of a divine John Wayne who rides in to save the women and children and defeat the forces of evil, but it seems to us that God keeps playing the part of a bit actor who stands quietly in the shadows, rarely speaking and rarely doing anything.
After the Holocaust many Jews abandoned their faith because of the horrors they and their people had experienced. The common refrain was, “If there is a God then he is unbelievably cruel to allow this. I would not want to believe in a God who permits a Holocaust.” They had experienced the absence of God and the horror that comes with it, and they could not handle this. They are not alone.
Truthfully, throughout scripture we see those who struggle with the absence of God, who experience what one has called “the dark night of the soul.”
· Job experienced the loss of his family and fortune and only knew God’s absence.
· David’s dark night came when the infant son born of his adultery with Bathsheba sickened and died and again when his own son Absalom turned against him and was killed.
· Jeremiah experienced his dark night when people rejected both his message and him, turning their backs on him and God.
· Jesus on the cross experienced the absence of the Father as only he could—and cried out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Why is God seemingly so quiet? Does God not care what happens to his people? Is God so full of wrath and anger that he will allow his people to be destroyed time and again to teach them a lesson? Jesus came teaching about a God of love, a God who is portrayed as a “heavenly Father” who watches over the flowers, the birds, and especially his children. If that is true, then why is this God so seldom seen to act?
God is often quiet, but God is not silent. God is often still, but God is not passive. God has already done all that God will do until the consummation of the age.
· God has given us his Word: the law, the prophets, the history—his story—of God’s interaction with humankind, the gospels—the story and teachings of Jesus, the epistles, all of God’s Word is here for us to study and understand.
· God has given us his Son in the flesh, Jesus of Nazareth, to be our Lord and Savior. In Jesus we see God with a face on, up close and real. In Jesus we hear not only teachings to follow, but see a life to be lived.
· God has given us his Spirit, his faithful presence, to lead, to love, and to remind us of his presence with us forever. Through his Spirit we know that we have not been abandoned, that despite all the evil in the world God is still God and still present.
What more could God do? Would it really help if God wrote in the sky every morning “I am?” Would it really help if God came down? God has given to us all that we could want and to a certain extent has left the matter in our hands. However, life is not entirely in our hands, because through his Spirit God continually calls his people, the church, to faith and action on his behalf. God has empowered us with his Spirit to faithfulness, to do more than we could ever dream, to become more than we could ever imagine. This is why we pray, not only to ask God to do something, but more importantly to ask God what God wants us to do. Isaiah recognizes that sin has caused his people and country to be destroyed and prays for God to do something to correct this. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done and God’s kingdom established in us and through us.
In what ways do we hear God? Obviously, through the Word, through his Son, and through the Spirit. We study scripture and ask: “What does this Word mean for my life?” We look at Jesus and ask, “What did Jesus say and do?” We pray and listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit.
As we listen as the community of faith, in our togetherness we will hear the Spirit. Occasionally we hear the Spirit in our singularity, but most of the time the Spirit is heard through a community of faith. When we share our concerns that others might be praying for them, we will come to answers and understandings that we alone could never have received. God has spoken to me through people I love and who love me, through people I do not love as much and who definitely do not love me, through people who do not even know me and through those whom I do not know, through children, teenagers, and adults. This idea of communal listening to the Spirit for one another is foreign to us in our individualistic world, but it is common in scripture and in the Christian tradition.
How do we hear? Mostly in silence, stillness, and quiet. We must either turn down the noise in our lives or develop abilities to tune out the noise if we would hear God. God will not compete with our noise in order to be heard. God is extremely patient—waiting for us to turn to him—only when our hearts are still can they hear the voice of God.
We may want God to come with might and glory, but it is my experience that God comes more often than not in the stillness and silence. We want God to do something powerful and dramatic, but what God does is empower us to do something purposeful and meaningful. When we do so, we know that God is with us, that as Isaiah knew, God is faithful.
Robert U. Ferguson, Jr., Ph.D.
Trinity Baptist Church
Seneca, South Carolina
1. As quoted by William Willimon, Pulpit Resource, Vol 24, No.4, page 36.
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