TODAY’S READING: ISAIAH 53-56
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares 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.” – Isaiah 55:8-9
That is the all important question.
Why is an important question. It is a particularly important question in regards to these verses because these verses are a favorite of Christians.
I have heard Christians use these verses to justify the violence attributed (wrongly I might add) to God in the Old Testament. When I have asked if God would really have women raped, babies dashed against the rocks, or whole cities and everything in them burned to destruction, I have had Christians respond, “Well, God’s ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts. So, yes, God can do whatever he wants and he really did those things.”
And, because many Christians believe God’s higher ways and thoughts can be used to justify a violent God, they then use God’s higher ways and thoughts to justify a God that would torment someone in hell in flames forever.
But, these Christians have completely missed the reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.
Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than our thoughts and ways?
All we need to do to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours is look at the previous two verses. Indeed, that is what the word “for” at the start of verse 8 is telling us to do. The “for,” which also means because, is telling us to look at what we just read to know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. For (linking back to what I just said), there is a very specific reason why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” – Isaiah 55:6-7
Why are God’s ways and thoughts higher than our ways and thoughts?
Which is a synonym for forgiveness. In fact, the Hebrew word literally means to be indulgent towards, to forgive.
But, not just forgiveness.
God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts because of of one very specific reason – God’s abundant forgiveness!
Therefore, the reason God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours is actually just the opposite of the way many Christians use God’s higher thoughts and ways to justify a violent God maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying whomever he wants.
At least one of Jesus’ parables reveals that God’s abundant forgiveness was the reason God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours.
In Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered Peter, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Some translations say seventy times seven.) While Peter thought seven times would be enough forgiveness, Jesus told Peter to forgive so much that you would lose count of how many times you had forgiven. In other words, Jesus told Peter to be life the Father, to make his thoughts and ways like God’s by practicing abundant forgiveness.
In the parable itself, Jesus showed how God’s abundant forgiveness, his thoughts and ways, is dramatically higher, higher as the heavens above the earth, than ours. In the parable, the king completely forgave the debt of the servant, which was an incredibly high amount that the servant could only have paid back if he had lived thousands and thousands of years. However, when the servant left the king’s presence, having received his forgiveness, he wouldn’t even forgive the relatively tiny amount that a fellow servant owed him.
So, Jesus revealed God’s abundant forgiveness in the parable of the wicked servant, but the Hebrew word for forgiveness tells us something about God’s abundant forgiveness as well
The Hebrew word for forgiveness is salah. According to the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament, the only individual in the Old Testament that is the subject salah, to forgive, is God. In other words, God is the only one the Old Testament associates with the capability of forgiveness. That right there shows that it is forgiveness that makes God’s ways and thoughts higher than ours.
The root word salah occurs 50 times in the Old Testament. The number 50 is significant because it was the year of Jubilee.
Deuteronomy 15:1-2 says, “At the end of every seven years you shall grant a release. And this it the manner of the release: every creditor shall release what he has lent to his neighbor. He shall not exact it of his neighbor, his brother, because the Lord’s release has been proclaimed.” Israel was commanded to release, or forgive, the debts of their neighbor every seven years because God’s release, or forgiveness, had been proclaimed.
But, God magnifies this idea of the seventh year in Leviticus 25. Leviticus 25:8, 10 says, “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years…And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” In the 50th year, all debts were completely forgiven and liberty proclaimed to everyone.
Of course, this is linked to the day of Pentecost, which took place 50 days after Jesus was crucified. In Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, Peter quoted from Joel 2 that God was pouring out his Spirit on all flesh. This pouring out of the Spirit was a result of Jesus having been exalted because of his crucifixion.
And what is the supreme revelation from Jesus on the cross?
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” – Luke 23:34
On the cross, while we were maiming, torturing, slaying and destroying Jesus, the innocent and perfect man, the son of God, Jesus was revealing God’s abundant forgiveness. When Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” he was revealing exactly how God’s ways and thoughts were higher than ours.
Also, tt was Jesus’ crucifixion, the moment of revealing God’s abundant forgiveness, that brought about our jubilee, the canceling of all our debts.
“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” – Colossians 2:13-14
Why are God’s thoughts and ways higher than ours?
The forgiveness of all our trespasses.
Now that we know why God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours – abundant forgiveness of every sin, every debt, complete and total – how is that God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours?
How is such abundant forgiveness possible?
“God is love.” – 1 John 4:8
God’s abundant forgiveness is possible because God is love.
How do we know God’s love?
Consequently, how do we know God’s forgiveness?
“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.”- 1 John 3:16
We know God’s love, and therefore his abundant forgiveness, which reveals God’s ways and thoughts as altogether higher than our ours, because Jesus Christ laid down his life on the cross.
And, what does Jesus tell us about God’s love?
“But i say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust.” – Matthew 5:44-45
God’s love is indiscriminate. God gives his love to all, deserving or not, just as the rain and sun fall on every person, deserving of their blessings or not.
And, if God’s love is indiscriminate in its nature, and God’s forgiveness flows from his flow, then God’s forgiveness is indiscriminate too.
Notice that on the cross Jesus put no qualifiers on who he was praying forgiveness for. Jesus simply prayed for “them.”
How marvelous is God’s forgiveness, the very reason his thoughts and ways are higher than ours.
What a wonderful revelation from Jesus.