"For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, 'I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before Me, and the breath of those whom I have made. Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry and struck him; I hid My face and was angry, and he went on turning away, in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and to his mourners, creating the praise of the lips. Peace, peace to him who is far and to him who is near,' says the Lord, 'and I will heal him.'" (Isaiah 57:15-19, The Message)
There are all kinds of suffering around us—much of which stems from the fact that we live in a fallen world. These verses caused me to reflect on the suffering we bring on ourselves because of our pride and rebellion against God, what I’ll call "corrective suffering."
The story begins in the middle of the passage: God’s people have sinned and God has disciplined them (invading enemies, exile). Verse 17b really breaks my heart: "he went on turning away, in the way of his heart." It breaks my heart because I see people every day who continue turning away from God even though it is not leading them to the happiness they desire. It breaks my heart because I recognize that I, too, at times, keep on turning away from God, insisting on following the way of my own heart. This kind of rebellious, prideful behavior often results in God’s disciplinary action in our lives. What a blessing! Wait...what? A blessing??
Yes! A blessing! I’m sure you have been in situations as I have, (on the train, in a restaurant, at church…), where a child has needed discipline and not received it. Perhaps you have also observed the longer-term results of that same lack of discipline as that child turns into a willful, entitled adult who often alienates friends and family. Healthy discipline, applied early in that person’s life, would have been a blessing. Similarly, it is a blessing when God disciplines our rebellious prideful spirits.
What is truly astonishing to me in this passage are the "bookends." Verse 15 says that although God is high, holy, exalted, and eternal, He chooses to dwell with the crushed in spirit and the contrite. Wow! In verses 18-19 we learn that although man is voluntarily rebellious, proud and obstinate, God chooses to heal, lead, comfort and bring peace to him. Wow!
God’s healing process often feels like suffering. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) Our proud spirits do not like to be humbled and crushed; it hurts. But what a blessing that God in His mercy does not turn away from us when we turn away from Him. When we thumb our noses at God, He does not huff off, leaving us to our own devices. Instead He chooses to take us on a (sometimes painful) journey to healing. Why? Because He longs to dwell with us and He can only do so if we are humble and contrite.
Warmly in Christ,
"I was angry, good and angry, because of Israel’s sins. I struck him hard and turned away in anger, while he kept at his stubborn, willful ways. When I looked again and saw what he was doing, I decided to heal him, lead him, and comfort him, creating a new language of praise for the mourners." (Isaiah 57:17-18, The Message)
Is there an area where you “keep on turning away” from God? Are you harboring any stubborn willful ways? What steps can you take to let God shine light in that place and bring healing?
At what place in your journey with God has He chosen to bring healing through suffering? Can you thank Him now for that blessing?