Sermon Ideas For Isaiah 62:1-5 Part 4
Many religions declare that God is love. This claim is especially prevalent in the more mystical strains of the great religions of the world, from medieval Catholicism and Judaism to the poetic works of the Sufi masters. From a mystical perspective, this divine love is experienced immediately as the individual's union with God. Thus when Christians say with the author of 1 John that "God is love" (1 John 4:7). They often have in mind a quite personal, which is to say affective and individualistic, notion of the divine-human relationship.
Such teaching is not always false. There is a strain of biblical piety that evokes an immediate apprehension of God as love; the Song of Solomon, many of the Psalms, or much of the Johannine literature may come to mind. Yet there is another dimension to the biblical characterization of God as love. It is corporate and historical; it has always demanded patience and hope from God's people.
Isaiah 62 illustrates this other dimension. The author may have written in light of Israel's painful captivity in Babylon. Or the author may have written to those who had returned from Babylon and suffered the ignominy of internal weakness, social instability, and deferred consolidation of the nation's religious and political institutions. In either case, the people waited for a form of deliverance or salvation that was corporate and historical.
The prophet declared that the people should yet hope and trust in their God, because God loved them and promised vindication. God's love, in this case, was not grasped primarily in the individual's immediate apprehension of the presence of God. Here God's love was promised to be manifested in three divine acts: God will speak and "not keep silent"; God will work and "will not rest"; and God will not reject Israel but will marry Israel and take delight in her (Isaiah 61:1, 4-5).
So the prophetic notion of God's love was, first, that God speaks. There is little here of a mystical conviction that God is perceived in silence, in the absence of God which reveals God's presence. The God of Third Isaiah promises first to speak publicly, to let the world know of Israel's calling and position as God's chosen people. The theological import here is that God is indeed the other, not present in the individuated self in mystical fashion. God speaks as an historical figure who is external to Israel, One who makes conversation. This speech declares the objective and external reality of God.
Second, God acts. That is, God moves in historical time and at historical places to shape history to God's purposes. This is no passive divinity, conceived either in deist-like fashion as a distant creator of natural laws who allows the world to run on its own course or in mystical fashion as being itself who is present in barely detectable ways in moments of rest and inactivity. The God of Third Isaiah works in a dynamic manner to fashion public events as a means of redemption for Israel and glory to God. The God of Process Theology is so subject to history that he is no longer an objective reality who is Victor over history. The God of the Bible is Lord, which means that God will win. Israel will be publicly vindicated.
Third, the promise that God will delight and rejoice in Israel as a bridegroom over the bride bespeaks an intimate relationship. There are, to be sure, certain tinges of mystical union in such a metaphor. Yet this is not the mystical strain of union in the sense of the conflation of two identities into one, the solitary merged into the universal, or the drop of water joining the ocean. There remains metaphorically the bridegroom and the bride, two distinct identities in relationship.
Such a version of divine love demands patience and hope. It does so in that it portrays God as working in and through temporal relationships: the cadences and sequences of speech, the laborious development of collective fortunes through time, the often slow and halting dynamics of inter-personal relationships. There is, in God's way, no quick fix until the final consummation of history. There is no immediate resolution to human problems in a mystical, atemporal experience. God's promises are projected in temporal sequence as being fulfilled in the present and yet to be completely fulfilled in the future.
This is love because it compels no trust or loyalty. It only asks for trust and loyalty. It requires hope in things unseen; and thus lays itself open to rejection, as does true love. God does not yet enforce his sovereignty by abolishing the possibilities of human defection from God and the tragedies that ensue from it. To do so would be to subject people to a Sovereign who does not care for the volitional response of his people. To do so would also be to rivet people on the divine victory rather than on the divine Victor. So God patiently works through human affairs, speaking, acting, and courting, all the while promising salvation.
This is the love of a God who became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. He fully expressed God's speech and acted to redeem fallen humanity. There is no radical disjunction between the God of Third Isaiah and the God of Jesus Christ. In both cases we see God working through the contingencies of corporate affairs without any compromise to God's sovereignty or control over history. We may hope and rejoice, because the promises are secure and validated by the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.