When you extend your hands,
I’ll hide my eyes from you.
Even when you pray for a long time,
I won’t listen.
Your hands are stained with blood. (Isaiah 1:15 CEB)
Over my years I have been accused of being a pessimist (though I usually quip back with an “I’m just a realist”). My resting face isn’t one with the corners of my mouth “up-turned” in some sort of smile. No, you’re more likely me with a straight face if not ever so slightly “down-turned” frown. I usually can find holes in the positive. My choice in Spotify playlists often turns to “Southern Gothic” which the music service terms “Deep, Dark, and Dramatic.” I even have been accused of being a “hater” when it comes to Rom-Coms because they always end happily.
Maybe this is why I seemingly enjoy reading texts like Isaiah 1 (which is often thought as an introduction the whole of the book). It paints a dark and unabashed picture of the failure of the Judean people. The LORD, through Isaiah, proclaims their religious and moral shortcomings are enough for God to have had enough. Walter Brueggemann puts it this way, “In truth, the poem asserts, Yahweh is finished with this people and with its activities in the Jerusalem temple. God will not look. God will not listen. God will not attend. God will not respond. Judah is now on its own–without God,” (Isaiah 1-39, 18).
Well, what did the Judeans do? Apparently, they separated their lives into two camps and unwittingly became adherents to a sort of lived dualism. Their worship and their lives were separate. Their religion and their daily activities were as far apart as could be. The felt impact of their worship was not one conformed to the ways of God. They did not work for justice, help the down and out, stand up for the homeless, or go to bat for the defenseless (Isaiah 1:17 The Message).
I suppose we could say that was their problem, not ours, but that wouldn’t be the most reflective. Our hands are also stained with blood. Some hands bound in prayer are the same hands which beat their wives. Some voices raised in praise are the same ones calling for the refusal of hope for refugees. Some of the money placed in offering plates has been made off the backs of undocumented workers.
While our particular division of faith and practice might not be as dramatic as these, we each have our own ways of creating cognitive dissonance so as to not answer the LORD’s call to do good.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, there is hope (in fact I secretly like happy endings). God promises to make our sins clean. Though we are frail, God remains committed to us. Even when we reject God with our actions, God is committed to us. God is committed to us, even unto death on a Cross on a hill. And for that, I give thanks each day and try to live my life in faithful response.
Thanks be to God.