One of my favorite series of books is by Jasper Fforde. The first book, the Eyre Affair, introduces his alternate reality in which a detective by the name Thursday Next is able to jump into works of literature, rescuing the characters from kidnappers and the like. For example, in one scene Thursday jumps into Great Expectations and joins Miss Havisham as she enters Wuthering Heights to provide “rage counseling” to the characters. As Thursday goes into these great works of literature, their stories and characters suddenly become more overwhelmingly relevant and engaging than could possibly be imagined. She finds her herself simultaneously attracted to and repulsed by Heathcliffe, while feeling a mix of pity and contempt for Catherine’s husband Linton. OK, perhaps I am stretching this a bit here, but bear with me . . . What if we could attempt a similar feat in reading scripture?
In reading the Bible we try to the enter the story, imagining conversations with the kings of Israel and Judah, asking them what they were thinking. As we become familiar with the story of the Bible, we can imagine the frustration and anger of God that builds over years of being in relationship with a people who were unfaithful and sinful. Is it possible that we can then relate better to the kings who put their trust in foreign powers? Will we get a new glimpse at the love and mercy of God?
Try to enter the story of Isaiah 30. Now we know that Jersusalem was not destroyed by the Assyrians, but in this context, God is talking as if the Assyrians will be the ones who level Jersusalem. The king of Judah is apparently aware that trouble is brewing and he has a plan. He has sent a delegation to Egypt in order to secure the aid of the Pharoah and his world-renowned cavalry.
On the other hand, God is exasperated that his people are still ignoring him and living in sin. He pleads with them, “You make plans that are contrary to my will. You weave a web of plans that are not from my Spirit, thus piling up your sins. For without consulting me, you have gone down to Egypt to find help.” After year upon upon year of unfaithfulness, the Lord has had enough and he assures Israel that Assyria will crush Egypt and Jerusalem. He’s through with talking, “For these people are stubborn rebels who refuse to pay any attention to the LORD’s instructions.”
Though total destruction is sure, the Lord still graciously provides a prescription to cure his people. “Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it.”
What blows me away is that after this oracle in which voices God’s frustration and boiling wrath, his tender heart breaks through. It’s as if he cannot bear to be angry any longer. It appears to me that judgment is not really his preferred style with his beloved people. He proclaims, “But the LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them.”
The juxtaposition of waiting to very striking to me. God’s people are supposed to wait and listen. God wants to be involved in our lives, influencing our plans. The beauty is that while the people of God ignore him and fail to wait and listen, God is still waiting and listening. This reveals an unspeakably wonderful dimension of God, now we must listen to the Spirit and draw life from it.