About Me

My photo
Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

Popular Posts

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Isaiah and Economic Justice 7: Not Seeing the Writing on the Wall

[I'm trying to put aside the distractions and get back to more regular writing again.  Entry 6 in this series appeared on February 16.]

Isaiah 6: 5-13

And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost,
     for I am a man of unclean lips,
     and I live among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King,
     the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  The seraph touched my mouth with it and said:
“Now that this has touched your lips,
     your guilt has departed
     and your sin is blotted out.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send,
     and who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
And he said, “Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
     keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
     and stop their ears,
     and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
     and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
     and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:  “Until cities lie waste
     without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
     and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
     and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
Even if a tenth part remain in it,
     it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
     whose stump remains standing
     when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

The calling of Isaiah the prophet in the temple, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up is a well-known passage.  Moreover, in the modern mission movement, the response, "Here am I.  Send me," is a key point of missiological reflection.

Many readers remember the rest of the passage in chapter six, but it is not as familiar.  Moreover, for those who struggle with intellectual conundrums concerning predestination and free will, the text is sometimes troubling.  It says that Isaiah's job is to give this message of judgment, which the previous chapters have shown to be based on economic injustice, but that people will not listen.  In fact, it seems to say that Isaiah does not want them to listen and understand.

Frankly, I find little justification for the kind of interpretation which claims that there is some sort of necessary period of destruction that has to happen before the people will get the message.  It is not necessary in any philosophical sense that this time of destruction must come.  So God is not stopping their ears or muddling their reasoning.  Nor are they part of some historical determinism which must pass through requisite stages before arriving at a new condition.

What Isaiah's calling warns him about is that even though people begin to see evidence of their injustice and their downfall, they will continue to assert and believe that they do not need to change.  It is saying that people who see the failure of their systems and structures will look upon it and then demand to continue doing the same thing, or even to do more of the same kind of thing as the way out of the problem.

If foxes have been guarding the hen house, then lets put foxes in charge again.  If deregulated banks, deregulated trading in financial instruments, mortgage writing with no attention to the future, and usurious interest practices have gotten us into a mess, it seems logical that some changes need to come.  Yet many call for leaving it all the same, or getting government even farther away from its duty to protect those with less power and money.

Whether listening to speakers at Dick Armey funded rallies, to Sarah Palin turning a wave of fame into a cash bonanza, or to Glen Beck making it all up as he goes along (such as claiming any church which talks about social justice is not a real church), many have believed that any kind of reform is in some way a plan to destroy the nation.  Another way to see and not understand is to put the same people in charge of the U.S. Treasury and the Economic Advisers who oversaw the housing bubble and 2008 crash and claim they never realized it was coming.  Or Congress and others keep listening to the heads of major financial institutions say they have to pay big bonuses to keep "talented" employees who "wheeled and dealed" us into a recession.  At a time when rational and moral impulses would lead toward fair and practical regulations of the financial system, many cry out against it.  They see, but they do not understand.  They hear, but do not comprehend.

If they have their way, then the cycle of bubble and bust that has dominated the US economy since the 1980s will continue, and eventually worse results will lead to greater devastation than the Great Recession of our time.  Then, the voice says, they will get it. 

But it does not have to be that way.  Prophecies of judgment are contingent, and can be avoided if people change their ways.  If not, someone else will figure out a way to take advantage of the weakness of a powerful economy, and all will come crashing down to be rebuilt.

Even then, God has not abandoned the people.  Even the stump of a tree can be the seed of redemption.

No comments:

Baptist Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf
Christian Peace Bloggers
Powered By Ringsurf