How the faithful city has become a whore! She that was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her—but now murderers! Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them. Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies, and avenge myself on my foes! I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness. But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together, and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen. For you shall be like an oak whose leaf withers, and like a garden without water. The strong shall become like tinder, and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them. Isaiah 1:21-31 (NRSV)
The late Dr. Robert Mulholland was known for saying, “Sin carries in it the root of its own destruction.” Sin boils us slowly, and we are not likely to notice how hot the water around us is until it is too late. God sent the prophet Isaiah to Israel to warn them about the hot water they had wandered into. Listen again to some of the things he warns them about. “Your princes are rebeles and companions of thieves… Rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together… The strong shall become like tinder and their work like a spark; they and their work shall burn together, with no one to quench them.”
This is a warning for those who have trusted too long in themselves. Both the wicked – those who do not care about God, as well as the complacent – those who think they can get through the day without bothering God, are equally guilty in God’s eyes. Both have robbed the city of justice and righteousness, so both will share the same punishment. But if you listen closely, you will see that it is more than punishment that God is handing down here. It is not retribution. It is restoration.
“I will turn my hand against you; I will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will retore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning.” God does not see our sin and failures as a lack of goodness. He sees it as foreign material that covers up the goodness he knows lies in the potential beneath it all.
There was once a sculptor who worked hard with hammer and chisel on a large block of marble. A little child who was watching him saw nothing more than large and small pieces of stone falling away left and right. He had no idea what was happening. But when the boy returned to the studio a few weeks later, he saw, to his surprise, a large, powerful lion sitting in the place where the marble had stood. With great excitement, the boy ran to the sculptor and said, “Sir, tell me, how did you know there was a lion in the marble?”
“The art of sculpture is, first of all, the art of seeing. In one block of marble, Michelangelo saw a loving mother holding her dead son on her lap, while in another, he saw a self-confident David ready to hurl his stone at the approaching Goliath, and in a third, he saw an irate Moses at the point of rising in anger from his seat. Visual art is indeed the art of seeing, and the practice of disciplines is a way to make visible what has been seen. The skillful artist is a liberator who frees from bondage the figures hidden for billions of years inside the marble. The artist reveals the true identity of the figures!” (Henri Nouwen, Clowning in Rome, (Image, 2000) pages 83-84))
When we learn to see ourselves and our world like God does, as something beautiful waiting to be brought forth from the slab of marble we are stuck in, we will set our guilt aside, quit making excuses, and really begin to pray for transformation instead of begging God to leave us to live life our own way. We will stop asking God to bless our will and instead start following God’s will for our lives. We will finally begin that our sin, while devastating to our own lives, is not even a minor inconvenience to God. Indeed He has been in the business of doing the impossible, calling light out of the darkness, every day since the beginning of creation.
What sin hangs onto you like dross and keeps you from living fully and freely as a beloved child of God?
Where are you able to see yourself most clearly?
Who helps you to seek help instead of relying on your own strength?
His strength is perfect when our strength is gone
He’ll carry us when we can’t carry on
Raised in His power, the weak become strong
His strength is perfect, His strength is perfect