For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says 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. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55:8-12
The single most popular question I get as a pastor is why. Why did my friend have to die? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why? I always squirm when I get this one. I squirm because there is no immediately satisfying answer to the question why. I’m reminded of Jesus hanging on the cross. He asks his Father, “why have you forsaken me?” But you’ll notice he doesn’t get an answer. Nothing at all. Just agonizing pain and eerie silence as the question trails off into thin air.
The Prophet Isaiah writes to God’s people at a time when they probably had more than a few why’s of their own to ask the Lord. They’ve been defeated by the Babylonians, had their beloved Temple torn down, humiliated, exiled, and now wait for a long time where all they can do is cry and wonder why.
It’s in this setting that Isaiah pens these words. The Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts…His ways are far higher than our ways. God can understand us far better than we are able to understand him. This present suffering is part of something much bigger, something God can see, but the people of God, try as they might, simply won’t be able to wrap their minds around this. What do they need to know? They need to know that God is at work now in their life. He is working in ways that they cannot see or understand.
Isaiah points them to their history. You will go out in celebration, you will be brought back in peace! The hills will be made low and the valleys will rise up! God’s people have been here before…this is the exodus! Once they were slaves in Egypt. They went out in celebration…at least until ol Pharaoh changed his mind! They were brought in in peace…well, ok, not really peace, but they made it to the promised land. And the hills and valleys they encountered on the exodus; well, they didn’t really make a straight highway, but they did make it. Now God promises to do this again, only this time there will be celebration as they go out, there will be peace as they come in, and their way will be made safe and secure from all alarms.
When we ask why there are no easy words to “fix” everything. When we ask why God does something about it! It may not be in the time frame that we want. It may not be in the way that we want. But God is always at work bringing life out of hopeless situations. When God’s people were stranded on the shores of Babylon and asked why; God prepared a new exodus for them! When on a hill far away Jesus cried out from the cross, “why?” God raised him from the dead three days later! So it is with us when we ask why. We may never hear an answer, we may have to go into our own exile, we may even have to enter into death. But the Lord will not forget us or forsake us. Paul reminds us in Romans that nothing, even death itself, can separate us from the Love of God. So in the midst of the woes of life, as we cry out with our why’s, we shall see tried and true words of life spoken to us “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:14)