7 February 2012

Isaiah 59:1-15

"We wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom." (v. 9)


This must be one of the darkest and depressing passages of Scripture. It is a bleak exploration of the human condition, gaining momentum from God's displeasure in the previous chapter. God is confronting the Israelite people with the reality of their sinfulness, their lack of compassion and their graceless living. 

This is bleak in itself, but the troubling thing about this passage is that God is not just shining on the Israelites' faithlessness and hypocrisy. This passage also holds up a mirror to us, and shows us the reality of who we are. And that is not a nice picture to look at.

Isaiah says that "we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom".

What if one of the tasks of a Christian disciple is not to escape the darkness, but instead to recognise that the very gift of grace is to learn to accept the deep shadows, and to still love God and self. In The Wounded Healer Henri Nouwen wrote, "When we become aware that we do not have to escape our pains, but that we can mobilise them into a common search for life, those very pains are transformed from expressions of despair into signs of hope." 

All of us have pains or shadows, which we carry around with us. In this passage, God is saying to the people that God sees them, and knows them - God knows your failures, fragility, lack of faith, embarrassments, mistakes and frustrations. God also knows the bigger, corporate sins of injustice and false worship. God looks at this and is displeased. Truth seems to be hidden amongst the shadows where there is no light at all. 

This is not the end of the story. It is not even the end of the chapter. Even when there appears to be no hope, and the realisation is that humanity is broken and fragile and failing, there remains the hope that at some point (any point, somewhere), there will be a glimpse of Godʹs grace. But to discover grace, we first must recognise the darkness. 

To Ponder

Are you living in the reality of light or darkness today?

Where in your life have you experienced the truth of Henri Nouwen's quote?

The passage ends with the statement that "truth is lacking" (v. 15). Where do you find truth?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Joanne Cox-Darling (1)

Joanne Cox-Darling is a Methodist presbyter currently serving in the Wolverhampton Circuit, where most recently she participated in a harvest festival in a farmyard, surrounded by a 'small' dairy herd of nearly 200 cattle. Joanne is the chair of the Christian Enquiries Agency (www.christianity.org.uk) - described by the Archbishop of York as the "possibly the easiest form of evangelism you will ever do".