“Higher than the Earth”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55.6-9)
This passage reminds of us several important things: first, that God is far wiser and more righteous than we are. Next, that we have a responsibility to call on him and seek his will and ways. It further reminds us that, whenever our attitudes and actions don’t line up with his standards, we are obligated to admit it, and change to conform to him.
When we do this, God won’t ever gloat over us, or call us foolish, or hold our mistakes over our heads. Instead, he treats us with compassion and abundantly pardons our transgressions. “Call upon him while he is near,” we are told. It’s not an unreasonable expectation—that we must search high and low, leaving no stone unturned, and finally, if we work hard enough and are graced with a healthy dose of luck, perhaps we may find him. Rather, he makes himself accessible to those who are willing to listen and obey. On the other hand, just because he makes himself available doesn’t mean he’s at our beck and call, or that he’ll be so understanding of our position as to change his mind about what’s right and wrong. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts.” We’re the ones who need to change—not him! We’re the ones who are easily mistaken—not him! We’re the ones who don’t really know what’s good for us—God knows everything! He even knows our very thoughts, and will hold us accountable for which ones we entertain, dwell upon, and pursue.
But while the fact of God’s omniscience scares us somewhat—after all, who hasn’t harbored a hateful, lustful, or arrogant thought?—this very same passage reminds us that God is not sitting in heaven, slowly building up the most damning case possible against each one of us, cackling maniacally all the while. Rather, like any good father who knows his kids and can read their thoughts, he wants us to succeed—wants us to mature, and grow, and reflect his own good will and character. “The Lord [will] have compassion on” the one who turns from his sin and seeks God’s will. If we’re honest with ourselves, and not completely deluded by our own arrogance, it’s difficult for us to believe, or even comprehend that the perfect, righteous, all-knowing, and all-powerful God would feel anything but disdain for such awful people as we are. The apostle Peter clearly demonstrated this for us, when Jesus performed a miracle that proved to be a great blessing to the fisherman:
And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5.4-8)
If Peter had been an utterly selfish, uncaring sinner, we’d have expected him to see the immense potential for financial gain in Jesus’ great power, and try to build a relationship with him for his own benefit; but no. For all his faults, when confronted by such power, and having already been told that this man is the Messiah (Jn 1.41), he simply melted and admitted his own great faults, which he couldn’t believe Jesus would tolerate.
Yet, Jesus already knew Peter wasn’t perfect. “He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (Jn 2.24b-25). He wanted Peter to follow him, anyway. He wanted to redeem him, anyway. God always seeks to show compassion on us. We have a high priest who’s been through the struggles of human life, and sympathizes with our weaknesses (He 4.15). He shows us the way through the trials, because he navigated that path successfully, himself.
This brings us back to our passage in Isaiah, which also closes with a reminder that where we have failed, God has succeeded: “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We can see the sky, but we can never reach out and grasp it. We’re simply not built for the heavens. But God has given us a glimpse of himself through their beauty, order, and complexity. It’s not a mere accident that even the pagans of the world throughout history have gazed at the sun, moon, and stars, and marveled at them—even going so far as to worship them, in most cases. We shouldn’t mistake the heavens for God, but he built them in such a way as to teach us, intuitively, that he is there; that he is greater than we are; that, try as we might, we can never lay hold of him by our own power.
It is all the more amazing, then, that he makes himself known to us, and wants us for his children. He deserves all our respect and love. The offer of adoption doesn’t last forever, though. Judgment is coming, “at an hour you do not expect” (Lk 12.40). Call upon him, while he is near.