A Judgment Medley: Isaiah 5, Luke 21, 1 Thessalonians 5.
Damn, damn, damn, DAMN!
(Only the first 22 seconds are relevant. After that, other things happen.)
That’s my summary of the lectionary readings for Monday and Tuesday. I was scheduled to lead devotions for unconnected morning prayer gatherings each day, and my preparation had me in a positively Henry Higgins-mood. But judgment and righteousness began to light up my day.
If you stop to relish the poetry, Isaiah almost makes you forget about what he is saying: “Therefore Death expands its jaws, opening wide its mouth.” There is a certain beauty in that trenchancy. One part Milton, two parts Tarantino. But that’s Holy Scripture for you. “Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay and their flowers blow away like dust.” Who needs the f word when you have that?
But I can only love it for so long. Because soon I too have called evil good and good evil, I put bitter for sweet, and when I am really doing well and thinking highly of myself, I even add house to house and join field to field, till no space is left and I live alone in the land.
There really is a formal contrast between light and dark. Solzhenitsyn pealed that bandage off and saw the flesh: “The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
But who can hear that? Who can destroy a piece of his own heart?
Peace and safety, I say. Peace and safety and mortgages and Tapas and Netflix and the Paleo diet and Christian bestsellers.
And Trader Joe’s salted caramels.
No, no, no. Righteousness is not some secondary characteristic of God. It is not some secondary characteristic of goodness. It’s a fuse of fire that lights up the whole sky of ethics and art and shopping malls and in these Scriptures, the fire from the eyes of the Son of Man is also burning within his heart: “I will sing a song for the one I love.” Woe, woe – but woe it is to the vine he delighted in.
So it is that the longing for salvation, the panting for deliverance, is at once longing for righteousness. He looked for good grapes, he looked for righteousness, he looked for justice. He looked and looked … and we looked and looked. This is the will of God, my sanctification.
The fire of righteousness and the fire of love, light contrasting dark, reality when we stop to think about it – redemption draws near.
There is indeed a great conflagration, and what it has left are faith, hope, and love. The Son of Man died for us to live, and that is electrifying the dead cells to animation and the disheartened to encouragement.
Oh you dead, oh you sleepers: Awake! Awaken to righteousness and fire and love. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Bryan Wandel works in government finance and has studied history, accounting, and religion. He is a member of the editorial board at Humane Pursuits. Bryan’s writing has appeared at Comment Magazine, First Things, and elsewhere.