9 God won’t always play the judge;
he won’t be angry forever.
10 He doesn’t deal with us according to our sin
or repay us according to our wrongdoing,
11 because as high as heaven is above the earth,
that’s how large God’s faithful love is for those who honor him.
12 As far as east is from west—
that’s how far God has removed our sin from us.
13 Like a parent feels compassion for their children—
that’s how the LORD feels compassion for those who honor him.
6 Seek the LORD when he can still be found;
call him while he is yet near.
7 Let the wicked abandon their ways
and the sinful their schemes.
Let them return to the LORD so that he may have mercy on them,
to our God, because he is generous with forgiveness.
8 My plans aren’t your plans,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 Just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
and my plans than your plans.
People sometimes wrongly think the idea of “forgiveness” only arose in the New Testament. Today’s readings are not the only passages that show the Hebrew Scriptures also focusing on God’s forgiveness (cf. also, for example, Jeremiah 31:33-34). Isaiah 55 told readers that God’s superbly merciful acts are very different from our usual human patterns. As we choose to respond to God’s mercy, we join in a cosmic celebration full of peace, joy and beauty.
Lord God, sometimes I think of your forgiveness abstractly, but my bad choices and actions still haunt me. Keep teaching me that you take those things as far away from me as possible when you forgive. Amen.
My son is 16 years old now, but I didn’t meet him until he was 10 years old. My wife and I took in Isaac as a foster child and adopted him seven months later. I’m sure every parent has a changing relationship with their children, but Isaac came to us with some unique issues due to all the change in his life. He was scared and cautious in trusting us, which meant he’d sometimes have trouble doing what we said. For the first six months, our relationship was very structured, with me and my wife enforcing hard standards of right and wrong. As he matured and grew to trust us more, our relationship changed: he came to us more readily for advice and we deferred many things to his judgment.
The funny thing about our relationship is that I don’t know that I’ve changed as much as the relationship has. Yes, I’ve matured in six years, but my basic concepts of right and wrong and my values haven’t moved much. I interact differently with my son not because I’m changing, but because he’s changing and maturing and getting to a spot where he can handle more freedom and ambiguity. Had he been in this spot when we adopted him, the relationship probably would have started here and matured from there; had he been in a worse spot, the relationship probably would have started further back.
It’s no surprise that our relationships with God change as we change and mature, not as God changes. Many people, when first coming into a relationship with God, need hard rules and structure, and many, as they mature, become more comfortable with ambiguity and abstract concepts, much like my son was. This is something we’ve probably all experienced.
What doesn’t get much talk is that God’s relationship with humanity changed as we advanced as a species. In early times, when there were few rules or reasons for civility in any society, God provided a strict set of rules and boundaries with consequences. By the time Jesus was born, society had moved past basic questions of right and wrong and started delving into abstract concepts through philosophy and theology. Many knew how to read and write and the road system built by the Roman Empire enabled ideas to spread quickly. Jesus gave us a different message than the God of the Old Testament not because God changed, but because humanity had matured to a point that it could understand this new message and spread it around the world.
We often look at the God of the Old Testament as one of judgment and the God of the New Testament as one of mercy, but each assessment is only half-true. In seeing both sides of God, it reveals another characteristic: God will change his relationship with humans to meet us where we’re at. The God who delivered strict rules to people who didn’t have any was the same God who delivered grace and mercy to people who were overwhelmed with rules, and he’s the same God who longs to know each of us today and meet us where we’re at, no matter where we’re at.
Can’t find something? Let us help.