Isaiah 59:9-19 – (Un)Truth in the Public Square

Because of all this, justice is far from us,
    and righteousness beyond our reach.
We expect light, and there is darkness;
    we await a gleam of light, but walk about in gloom.
We grope along the wall like the blind;
    like those without eyes we grope.
We stumble at noonday as if it were twilight,
    and among the strong as if we were dying.
All of us growl like bears,
    and like doves we moan.
We expect justice, but there is none;
    we await salvation, but it is far from us.
Our rebellions are numerous in your presence;
    our sins testify against us.
Our rebellions are with us;
    we’re aware of our guilt:
    defying and denying the Lord,
    turning away from our God,
    planning oppression and revolt,
    muttering lying words conceived in our minds.
Justice is pushed aside;
    righteousness stands far off,
    because truth has stumbled in the public square,
    and honesty can’t enter.
Truth is missing;
    anyone turning from evil is plundered.

The Lord looked and was upset at the absence of justice.
Seeing that there was no one,
    and astonished that no one would intervene,
    God’s arm brought victory,
    upheld by righteousness,
    putting on righteousness as armor
    and a helmet of salvation on his head,
    putting on garments of vengeance,
    and wrapping himself in a cloak of zeal.
God will repay according to their actions:
    wrath to his foes, retribution to enemies,
    retribution to the coastlands,
    so those in the west will fear the Lord’s name,
    and those in the east will fear God’s glory.
It will come like a rushing river
    that the Lord’s wind drives on. (Common English Bible)

It is telling that when the word “politics” is used today, we immediately think of other words like, “polarized” “rancorous” and “corrupt.” The word “statecraft,” that is, the positive use of politics as a vocation in serving the common good of all persons, seems now like some anachronistic concept of the past.

Isaiah the prophet may have spoken over two millennia ago, yet his words are eerily relevant today, when he said, “Truth has stumbled in the public square.”

Politics, today as in Isaiah’s day, has become less about unselfish public servants promoting the welfare of citizens, and more about winning elections and possessing power. 

A party spirit rules the day, where, in the Unites States, Republicans and Democrats are more divided than ever with less and less ability to truly listen to one another in order to advance genuine justice, ethical righteousness, and social peace within both the nation and the world.

We, as citizens of both our local regions and of the world, must avoid getting sucked into the vortex of acrimonious speech and hate-filled rhetoric. 

Christians, especially those who desire to live and love like Jesus, need to be at the forefront of forsaking the hypocrisy of saying one thing and doing another; of envying power in order to satisfy personal agendas; and, of believing that malicious talk is justified if it accomplishes my wants and needs. 

We are not to keep looking for politicians, and everyone else whom we disagree with, to change. Rather, we ourselves are to practice repentance and allow the grace of God to transform and renew us. 

If what we speak in the public square is selfish and deceitful, we have no further to look than within, when it comes to turning from evil. A slow, careful, and serious reading of the prophet Isaiah is quite necessary. If it does not lead to repentance, we only have God’s displeasure to anticipate.

So, instead of continually insisting that others change or move over, let’s focus on us and seek the following:

  • Seek our better angels of humility, tolerance, and patience to guide our public discourse.
  • Open our eyes to see the image of God in others who are different from us and who see the world differently than we do.
  • Embrace civility and basic human respect for all persons, no matter who they are, as our presuppositions to all conversations.
  • Develop good listening skills so that we aren’t misinterpreting and misrepresenting another’s viewpoint.
  • Be willing, within our own communities of faith, to participate and worship together as the one people of God, without assigning other identities to each other which are not helpful.
  • Enlarge our hearts so that we are big enough people to hold the differing perspectives and politics of others without demonizing them.
  • Default to grace when we aren’t sure what to do say or do.

The Lord will not contend forever with injustice and unrighteousness in the world’s politics, including the extremely local politics of church, family, and neighborhood. Divine intervention cuts both ways, bringing deliverance and freedom, as well as judgment and retribution.

Let us, then, be found to be truthful and honest in all our words and ways; encouraging and helpful in all our public service; and seeking the peace of everyone in our own relational orbits.

Great God of truth and justice, you have every right to judge the world. Yet, instead of destroying the earth, you sent your Son to redeem lost humanity to yourself. May I, along with every creature you have made, come to our senses and speak truth with grace and act with integrity so that there is again righteousness throughout the land. Amen.

Psalm 55:1-15 – Pray as First Response

God, listen to my prayer;
    don’t avoid my request!
Pay attention! Answer me!
    I can’t sit still while complaining.
    I’m beside myself
        over the enemy’s noise,
        at the wicked person’s racket,
        because they bring disaster on me
        and harass me furiously.

My heart pounds in my chest
    because death’s terrors have reached me.
Fear and trembling have come upon me;
    I’m shaking all over.
I say to myself,
    I wish I had wings like a dove!
    I’d fly away and rest.
    I’d run so far away!
    I’d live in the desert.
    I’d hurry to my hideout,
    far from the rushing wind and storm.

Baffle them, my Lord!
    Confuse their language
    because I see violence and conflict in the city.
Day and night they make their rounds on its walls,
    and evil and misery live inside it.
Disaster lives inside it;
    oppression and fraud never leave the town square.

It’s not an enemy that is insulting me—
    I could handle that.
It’s not someone who hates me
    who is exalted over me—
    I could hide from them.
No. It’s you, my equal,
    my close companion, my good friend!
It was so pleasant when
    together we entered God’s house with the crowd.

Let death devastate my enemies;
    let them go to the grave alive
        because evil lives with them—
        even inside them! (Common English Bible)

We all likely know he modern day proverb, “The squeaky wheel gets oiled.” The saying is often used in reference to someone who is loud, even obnoxious, about what they want. 

In today’s psalm, David cannot avoid the squeaky wheel. There are people in his face and all up in his grill. The only thing we know about David’s enemies from the psalm is that they were nursing a grudge against him about something. David was hurt and betrayed.

So, David prayed. He pleaded with God to hear his prayer – to not hide from his plea for mercy. David desperately wanted the Lord to respond to his terrible plight. He couldn’t sleep. He had racing thoughts. He was hyper-vigilant. He was downright anxious. David felt the ache of people speaking against him. For whatever reason, they had an axe to grind and were determined to make David’s life difficult.

Although, like David, we sometimes feel like flying away and being at rest from the turmoil, we must deal with the insults, the false rhetoric, and half-truths of others. 

The way David confronted the problem was primarily through prayer. Whenever David prayed, it was never a quick on-the-run sort of prayer to God in the rush of dealing with all his kingly duties. Instead, David offered specific, agonizing, timely prayers, asking, even begging God to not let the violent speech and actions of his enemies prevail.

David was committed to maintaining peace, equity, and justice in the public square. In those times when injustice reared it’s ugly head, David’s first response was to pray.

Out of the range of possibilities we might do in response to slander, gossip, backbiting, threats, and general sins of the tongue against us, prayer needs to be the primary tool to face it all. Heartfelt, passionate, detailed, and pointed prayers can and must be offered to the God who hears the righteous in their grief. 

If you are in such a position of being oppressed by another, a sage way to begin addressing the situation is through praying the very same psalm that David did when he was under duress.

The biblical psalms are prayers which are meant to be prayed as our own. There is no such thing as praying them too often. It is always open season on praying the psalms for our own contemporary purposes.

The prayers are more than personal. They are public, as well. Violence, strife, iniquity, trouble, oppression, fraud, and injustice effect the entire community. Our prayers can and must include asking God to put an end to all this awful muck.

It’s one thing to have some schmuck we’ve never met make a disparaging social media comment against us, or some random persons spout baseless lies. And it’s quite another thing when it is someone close to us, a trusted friend who turns on us.

God cares about our adverse situations. Unlike fickle friends, the Lord is a faithful companion who will neither leave us nor forsake us. The New Testament affirms and encourages prayer to God in anxious times:

God cares for you, so turn all your worries over to him.

1 Peter 5:7, CEV

Jesus modeled a life of prayer in response to injustice, suffering, and belligerence.

“Into your hands I entrust my life.” (Luke 23:46, CEB)

“I don’t ask you to take my followers out of the world but keep them safe from the evil one.” (John 17:15, CEB)

May we know that loneliness is far from us. God is with us, always and forever. Amen.   

Listening God, you hear the cries of the righteous. Give ear to my plea. I cry out to you for respite from those allayed against me.  I ask for justice in my life and in the public square so that the wicked and the unrighteous do not have their way in this world, through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.