Monday, April 4, 2011

The Strangeness of the Isaiah 6 calling

I've read Isaiah 6 more than a  few times over the years. It's a very popular passage for those who sense a calling from God towards ministry. The part that always gets mentioned is the "here am I, send me" part. I love that part too. I really do. But like with so many other passages of scripture, when we read a part apart from the context that surrounds it, we end up doing violence to what God intended in these discrete words.

So in the interest of discretion, let's consider the whole passage as God and his prophet intended:

Isaiah 6:1-13 (ESV)

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here am I! Send me." And he said, "Go, and say to this people:
'Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' 
make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed."
Then I said, "How long, O Lord?"
And he said:
"Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste, 
and the LORD removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
 And though a tenth remain in it,
 it will be burned again,
 like a terebinth or an oak,
 whose stump remains
 when it is felled."
 The holy seed is the stump.

Does this sound like the kind of call you want? Tell the people you're called to preach to do exactly opposite of what they're willing to hear? God calls you and guarantee's failure from the outset? Or at least failure by "normal" standards? Yet it seems this is God's way, strangely enough. God never calls his disciples to follow the path of popularity. God never calls his followers to sing the song that resonates with the majority. He offends the popular opinion.

So if someone is actually called in this way, they're gonna be confronted with all of the idolatries that befall their people, whether political or religious. And it's pretty much the case that anyone truly called of God is gonna be hated by the vested interests, both political and religious. For those of us concerned with the things of God, this is something worth considering, today, and in the days ahead.

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