Believe It or Not?

view from space of US east coast
Photo credit: <a href="">NASA</a>

Isaiah 40:21-31

You don’t know?
You haven’t heard?
Nobody’s ever told you the story from the beginning?
You haven’t understood the rudiments of creation?

It’s God who sits above the great circle of the earth,
From whose perspective people are like ants,
Who hangs the heavens like hanging curtains,
Who unfolds the sky like unfolding a tent,
Who makes even princes into nobodies,
And who nullifies the laws of kings.

They’re hardly planted,
Hardly have they hit the ground,
Hardly have they sprouted,
Hardly have they taken root,
When God blows on them
And they wither,
And the wind blows them away like grass clippings.

“Who will you compare me to?
Who is my equal?” God asks.
“Raise your eyes to the sky and see.
Who created all this?”

God brings out the whole panoply of stars
Numbers them,
Names them,
And because God is so powerful,
So awesome,
Not a single one goes missing.

How can you say, Jacob –
Israel, how can you talk like:
“God can’t see where I am,”
And “God has let my rights be ignored”?
You don’t know?
You haven’t heard?
God is forever,
The maker of everything that is.
God doesn’t get worn out or tired.
God knows more than you can even guess.
God empowers the worn out,
God revives the beat down.

Even teenagers get tired and pass out.
Even young people crash when they’re exhausted.
But those who live in God
Renew their strength,
They take off like eagles,
They run without tiring,
They walk without feinting.

This is Isaiah’s answer to the defeatist, “we can’t” attitude.

To put it into context, this is the opening scene of Israel’s return from exile. Permission has been granted to return home, but it’s going to be a long trip. Many of those who are contemplating making it are old. They’ve lived in exile most, if not all, their lives. They’ve been beat down all their lives. Now, though the way is open, some are saying, “Never mind. It’s too hard. It’s too far. We can’t. We just don’t have the energy.”

Against this tide of defeatism, the prophet reasserts that what they cannot do on their own can be done by God’s strength and help. Even the teenagers and the youngest people are going to get tired out on a trip of this magnitude. Never mind, God will provide strength for the journey.

Behind this particular story of one community’s grappling with whether they are ready to make a journey home is the story of everyone who ever had to consider taking on a task that seemed, before it began, too great a thing to even bother considering. The question for every person, and every community, behind this story is: am I (or are we) going to attempt the thing we’ve always dreamed of doing. Even for those who don’t believe in God, the question remains: Do we believe the world we dream of is worth the effort and risk and sacrifice to attempt bringing it about?

To consider that kind of question, the prophet suggests that what we really need to take stock of is whether we really believe in the viability of the worldview we say we believe in. For the Israelites (and for people who believe in their God), the question is: Do we really believe what we say we do when it comes to our God’s ability to get us through this? We’ve heard the stories of God’s deliverance and power. Do we really believe them, or are they just stories? Because if we believe them, then we are responsible to act on that belief. Whatever you believe in, it’s time to put your effort where your faith is.

Believe it, or not?