Tag Archives: judgement day

48: The Lonely God

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It was for me the day of vengeance;

the year for me to redeem had come.

I looked, but there was no one to help,

I was appalled that no one gave support;

so my own arm achieved salvation for me,

and my own wrath sustained me.

I trampled the nations in my anger;

in my wrath I made them drunk

and poured their blood on the ground.” Isaiah 63:4-6 NIV

No, your eyes are not deceiving you, I am using the same text as I did yesterday, because I have a little more to say. It’s about the things we see and don’t see. All of the commentaries I read about this section of scripture for yesterday’s piece emphasise that it is a messianic vision of Judgement Day, that Jesus is both the sacrificial lamb and the warrior figure. None of them mention the sadness that pervades the text.

If we look past the violent imagery in this prophecy, the overwhelming sadness and anger of the Lord is that he is working alone. He wanted help and support and there was none in the offing. This appals, or in some other translations, astonishes him. For this is our forsaken God, sad but nevertheless walking out in triumph. His fate is always to be left alone, forgotten, turned away from, left to do it all himself. And this is heart breaking. And it is as true in acts of judgement as it is in his lonely cry on the cross. And within this I hear a deep call to Oneness for all believers. For God has always and will always want us for his family, for his friends, for his children. But I wonder if there are some things, nevertheless, like a king or a general, that he must do alone.

But this surprise the Lord shows makes me wonder, might we then partake in the work of redemption? Would he have needed his wrath to sustain him if he had had company? Might the redeeming work have been done, or be done, a different way with help? Of course, the idea of prophecy is that it comes true, but there are times when it is used to spur change. Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh, but because the city repented, God relented and the prophecy did not come to pass. This does not mean that the prophecy was in any way a lie, because it was what was going to happen when Jonah preached it. The outcome was changed by the action of the people and the heart of God. As Jonah says, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2 NIV partial).

So perhaps this image of our Lord striding home bloodied from battle might spur us into asking him how we might help, how we might ease his burden. In truth it seems a foolish thought. But if the Lord wants help and support, what might be prayed now or done now to offer him the succour and help that this scripture tells us he will one day long for? I know that the most painful times in my life have been when I have felt utterly alone, especially when facing a mammoth or uphill task, and so this piece of scripture makes my heart ache for God. He certainly does not need my help, but perhaps he would like it. And maybe if those of us who love him come together as true church as his bride, we might work together with him, working towards the redemption of the world, and at least willing to walk with our general when the battle comes.

 

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyattt

Photo from Pixabay

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47: Vengeance

47 Christ-in-Judgement non cf

It was for me the day of vengeance;

the year for me to redeem had come.

I looked, but there was no one to help,

I was appalled that no one gave support;

so my own arm achieved salvation for me,

and my own wrath sustained me.

I trampled the nations in my anger;

in my wrath I made them drunk

and poured their blood on the ground.” Isaiah 63:4-6

 

The prophet Isaiah speaks to us about “the Day of the Lord” which seems to roughly equate with the idea of Judgement Day. The day when the Lord will judge and punish and set things right. It’s a difficult concept for Christians, so used as we are to hearing about grace and redemption and atonement. But for the Israelites a day of vengeance was a powerful and often much desired thing.

And we might say too that so many terrible atrocities have happened, that surely they must be righted somehow, paid for? And maybe we try to imagine that Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished that redemption. But then we think about Auschwitz, Nagasaki, the Khmer Rouge, genocides, rapes and tortures, and we think, that is paid for? That is healed? We wouldn’t doubt the power of the cross out loud mind you, as I seem to be doing here (I’m not, by the way, read on), just in case someone gets the wrong idea or doubts our faith, you know. Because Jesus did it all, didn’t he?

Then why does Revelation talk about the end times the way it does, in violence and judgement? And why this prophecy, where the right arm of God wreaks his destruction? And why does Isaiah move straight from this visionary figure dressed in bloody robes into praising God for his kindness and compassion?

We clearly need to find a way to reconcile the crucified Christ with the avenging Christ. Or to accept that we in our small minds cannot cope readily with the seeming paradox. But should it surprise us that the God who loves paradoxes contains so many of them himself?

We struggle with an angry, triumphant Messiah. We are often taught that Jesus is meek and mild, the Good Shepherd, tending his flock, playing with children, finding the lost. And such he is on one level. But he is also the One to whom all power and authority has been given and he is coming again in clouds of glory to judge. And lest we forget, he had no problem fashioning a whip out of cords and chasing the moneylenders out of the Temple. We wonder at the rabbinic saying, “God is not nice. God is not your uncle. God is an earthquake.” And yet such he is. But as Elijah discovered, he is also in the soft, still voice after the earthquake.

Two ideas may help us here, particularly when people dismiss such passages by saying we are living under a new covenant now where all is forgiven and no vengeance is necessary. Well, yes we are, but John’s vision in Revelation shows that the final battles are still to come.

One is that I know, with a certainty I can’t put into words, that kindness and compassion are what motivates God. Always and without exception. He does nothing that is not for the ultimate good of those he loves. And by that I don’t mean some chosen few, but all living things on this earth. I also know that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was, is, a universe-changing action. It was more powerful and all-encompassing than our feeble words can express and our brains know how to hold. More than salvation, more than redemption, more than atonement (huge as these things are), this was a fulcrum event in space and time that began to solve everything.

Yes, what happened on the cross, God’s beloved dying in obedient love for this world, was like the epicentre of God’s grace earthquake. Its power will never stop echoing out, transforming and healing all things. And by this we can see that sometimes God’s answers are bloody and that they have yet to come to full culmination. When heaven comes to earth, all will be accomplished. The victory is already assured, but we are told that heaven will be birthed here and should expect labour pains. If we read his word at all or keep our eyes open in this life, we know that redemption often comes by suffering and resurrection requires death. So we also know that God does not look at death the way we do. And that both wine and blood, the trampling of grapes of wrath and of nations, are methods in the Old Testament that seem to find their own redemption into grace by the sacrifice Jesus made. That gall, that vinegar of the Lord’s anger was turned into the pouring out of blood, of a new kind of wine.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyattt

Photo Philip Jackson’s “Christ in Judgement”, Chichester Cathedral

 

17: Strange Tides

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And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides.” Luke 21:25 NLT

When Jesus spoke of the End Times (as we tend to call them) the signs sound terrifying. This verse tells us that the very things that mark our time, our days, nights, months and years, will be out of sync. It would make sense if odd things were happening in the solar system, that seas and tides would be affected, and no wonder that there would then be turmoil. And yet afterwards, on the other side of Judgement Day, Revelation tells us that there will be no seas, no moon or sun, no day or night. So perhaps these things too are passing from one kind of reality to another, just as all souls on earth will do.

I love the sea, or rather, as a card carrying landlubber, I love looking at it, and hearing its sounds, so it makes me sad to think of it disappearing. God though, always changes or redeems things for the better, so I am reassured to know that though things will be very different when heaven finally comes to earth, they will be infinitely better. I have a sneaking theory too, that the seas will remain but become fresh water, fed from the river of Living Water that streams out of the Temple in those days. But I’d be hard pushed to make a theological case for that….

The Lord goes on to speak of war, famine, pestilence, betrayal and persecution unto death for those who believe in him. It is worth remembering that eleven out of the twelve Disciples were martyred, and John only escaped because being boiled in oil somehow didn’t kill him, and endured banishment instead. Being a Christian sometimes has a high price.

But though none of this is really comprehensible to us, and we can grow fearful of what may happen, or even become obsessed by eschatology, as many sects and Evangelicals have, our focus needs to be not on how the supposed Rapture will come and how many will be saved, but on Jesus. Whilst some may read these events as linked to environmental disaster, and still others like Donald Trump, see no further than the ends of their noses, tweeting erudition like “It’s freezing out there today. Where is “global warming?” we need to see the signs, but to read them as birthing pains.

When the world is in chaos, and all is turned upside down, when the enemies of our faith come for us, as has happened and is happening in many parts of the world today, it is our witness that will matter, given by words from the Holy Spirit. And the Lord’s advice to us when all is in turmoil? To stay alert, to not trust in our own words but in his which shall never pass away, and to “…straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28 NLT partial). When the sky falls, when the earth crumbles under us, then we find out on what we stand. Not on the fear of a Chicken Licken world, determined to panic, or on the ostrich-vision of politicians, their heads full of wet sand, but on something more reliable than tides, and more permanent than even the very stars in the sky.

 

©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

Photo from Morguefile.com