Friday, May 18, 2007

Isaiah 32 - The trials of angels

Isaiah 32 begins with a declaration of the future reign of the Messiah.   It is assumed, though not quite certain, that Isaiah is referring to the second coming of Christ, when the earth shall be transformed and receive paradisiacal glory.   I will proceed on that assumption because it brings up some interesting questions. 

As I pondered this chapter, some verses stuck out at me because they paint an interesting picture of the millennial reign of the Messiah.    Consider these verses in particular:

2 And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.

17 And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever.

18 And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places;

19 When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place.

Notice in the verses that Isaiah is applying the metaphors of adversity to a time after Jesus comes to reign.   We often think of the Millenium (and of Heaven) as a time when we have no adversity.   The millennium we hear about is described as a global transformation to Eden rather than the isolated peace spoken of here.    With this picture in mind, we assume that the Lord’s isolated peace as described here will be expanded to all the earth after he comes again.   In other words, our problems will be solved by the external elimination of adversity- we will feel happy because our lives will be easy.  Yet, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” (John 14:27)  The national idea of peace is the absence of conflict.  The personal, worldly idea of peace is the absence of struggle.  But these are not the Lord’s peace.   It is difficult for the world to imagine feeling peace during a war or a trial or a storm, but this is what the Savior is talking about in both John and Isaiah.  Consider the Isaiah metaphors-  The peace that He brings is like finding a rock to cast a shadow over you in the desert.  It’s like finding a tiny, solid shelter to ride out a storm.   The external adversity remains, yet there is peace.    

The prophet Lehi taught that adversity is a requirement of growth.   If all adversity is removed from us one day during the millennial reign of Christ, where is our opportunity for growth?  In heaven there is presumably even less adversity.  Where is our opportunity for growth there?    If we think about it, we know that there certain types of adversity that can and do exist in heaven.  The first example of this is the war in heaven before the foundations of the world when Lucifer and his followers were cast out.  The war continues today and will come to a conclusion only after the Millennial Reign of Christ.     Another example is the labor that God performed in creating this earth.  It is clear from the beginning that God loves to work.

I will leave off with the following thought: mainstream views of heaven are often simplistic reductions of the theme “our troubles will be over”.   Cartoons depict angels strumming harps while sitting in a vast landscape of puffy clouds.  I think these concepts of heaven distract us from a more beautiful truth.   Consider the things that bring deep meaning and joy in this life- human relationships, the smell of rain, the beauty and variety of life, honest labor, creation, etc.   The Lord created this Earth as a type and shadow of the things to come.  The things that bring us true joy in this life are scaled down versions of what brings joy to our God.   Those who finally enter the Lord’s Kingdom will be people who will feel comfortable and confident there.

I believe that the people who will feel the most comfortable in the Lord’s Kingdom will be people who will look forward to heaven as a place of activity, growth, and work rather than as a place of perpetual leisure.  Let us be about, then, working hard,  doing good, building up others, and generally making our part of the world a better place.   Let us view rest and leisure not as goals, but as tools to assist us in being good laborers.    In this way we will properly prepare for the second coming of our Lord and Savior.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Isaiah 31- Symbols of power

This chapter seems to be a continuation/recap of the message from chapter 30:  Stay away from Egypt!   Isaiah lists some of the main reasons Israel finds Egypt so attractive: horses, lots of chariots and strong Horsemen.   This explanation gives rise to perhaps the most un-poetic and straightforward verse in all of Isaiah:

3 Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit.  When the Lord shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.

I don’t know how to get more clear than the message presented in these first few verses.  The sin of Israel is a reliance on mortals and worldy things for security.    The Lord explains that Israel cannot have security in these things because both the Egyptians (the world) and the people that rely on them (the worldly) will both fall.   And to take the message one step further, the Lord explains that the reliance is really pointless, because what he offers is so much better.  When He defends Israel, he will be like a Lion protecting his prey, a bird protecting its nest (v4).    Anyone who has seen these know that they are fearless and unintimidated.  What a better image than this to contrast with the Egyptians who could not care less about the Israelites, whom they judge to be “unprofitable”.

One day, says Isaiah, everyone is going to cast off the worldy, man-made idols they possess.   So turn to the Lord now!   You’ve really gone astray, but you can still go back, and when you do, your enemies will fear you because your “fire is in Zion”.   

I really like that last phrase from verse 9:  “whose fire is in Zion”.   Fire is a wonderful symbol, evoking imagines of power, passion, spirit, warmth, light, etc.    All of these things and more are found within a person when that person is pure in heart, for Zion is “the pure in heart”  (D&C 91:21).   To me, one of the meanings of being pure is to be completely turned one way or another. When we are fully and unashamedly turned to the Lord and his ways, his fire will be in us, and not only will it be within us, but that light will radiate from us.   This light is what enemies of righteousness truly fear- not weapons or armies. 

The video store is a great place (or awful place, depending on your view) to go and see the icons of power we make for ourselves.      The people on the covers are angry, seductive, and seem to usually carry some sort of weapon.  I think we are attracted to these images because we have this natural desire to radiate an image of power.    Isaiah is saying that it is possible to radiate great power without resorting to the usual worldly methods.   How do we do it?  Replace the furrowed brow with a smile.  Replace the gun with an open hand.  Live a life of virtue and the most mighty power in the universe will radiate through you.   Those who are full of hate will fear you and those with honest hearts who seek God will be drawn to you.