Incredible Shrinking Hope Restored

Read Isaiah 63:16-64:8 – There is a delightful scene in one of Lily Tomlin’s movies in which she becomes The Incredible Shrinking Woman.  In one scene during that movie Ms. Tomlin’s character finds herself so short and thin that she is in danger of being washed down a kitchen drain.  We see her swirling around and around in the kitchen sink desperately trying to find something to hold on to.  Finally she grabs hold of a string of pasta which she clings to with all her might hoping and praying that her salvation will soon appear.  She finds herself at the end of her rope clinging for dear life.

Perhaps that how many of us feel today as we enter the season of Advent observing the conditions of the world around us.  We feel like we are at the end of our rope.  We are afraid that the hopeless despair of our society will eventually overwhelm and defeat us.  We read the headlines of the newspapers which tell us about wars, rumors of wars, crime and economic collapse.  We are afraid and lack any sense of hope.

The passage suggested from Isaiah offers us an especially poignant example of how people approach God when they find themselves at the end of their proverbial rope.   In Isaiah 64 the prophet pens a rather pushy prayer on behalf of a group of people who, having exhausted all possible human alternatives, now give up on polite, respectful and restrained prayers to God.  People who are at the end of their rope, swirling around in the dark despair of life, having lost all hope in conventional means of change, do not have the luxury of a deistic “Unmoved Mover.” Such folks cannot believe in a God who merely sets the world in motion without continual intervention.    This prayer names a God who acts.  This prayer names a God who is intimately involved in the affairs of the world.  For people who are at the end of their rope, no less a God could hear or help so no less a God is addressed. 

The first verse of the sixty-fourth chapter of Isaiah began with these powerful, pushy words from a people who had nowhere else to turn for hope except towards God.  “O that you would tear open (literally rip apart) the heavens and come down.”

This prayer was specifically offered by a people, who, after having returned from excile in Babylon found their national capital in disarray and the temple of their God in ruins.  For these people the rubble of the temple signified the defeat of their national hope.  It was as if Israel no longer belong to God.  It was as if they were now like all the other nations and people of the world who were “not called by God’s name” (v. 19). 

But this pushy prayer moves beyond a tearful lament by boldly reminding God about his divine deeds of deliverance in the past.  Aha!  Doesn’t this sound like a little bit of faith at work in the midst of the dark despair of their existence.  “God, remember how you acted in the past!  Remember how you led us out of Egypt?  Remember how you cared for us while we were in the wilderness?  Remember how you stood by us and delivered us despite our sinful rebellion?  Oh God if you will remember how you cared for us in the past, then our prayer is simply this:  “Do it again!  Do it again! Do it again!”   (Note: I believe this thought was from an article by William Willimon, but I can’t find the source.)

Dare we exhibit that kind of faith?  Dare we believe that our God is connected to us even when life seems wrought with hopeless despair?  Dare we believe that despite all the iniquity and brokenness in this world that somehow God is still at work, and that we all are but clay in the hands of a skillful potter?  This is the kind of faith we need!  It’s easy to believe when all is going well.  Real faith develops when it seems like everything is falling apart and our world is going to “hell in a hand-basket.” 

Our hope today, as we cling to the end of our collective rope, is for a God who remembers us, even when we forget Him.  Our hope today is for a God who becomes involved in our world transforming us into his people.  This hope, however, is not merely that God will do something.  It most certainly includes that – but it is much bigger.  This hope is not for action, but encounter.  This hope is not that God might give us something, but that God might give us himself.

Thomas Torrance writes of this when he says, “Grace is to be understood as the impartation not just of something from God but of God Himself. In Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit God freely gives to us in such a way that the Gift and the Giver are one and the same in the wholeness and indivisibility of His grace…” (Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology) . 

When I feel like I am holding on to the end of a rope, I find hope that God is with me.  I find hope that God is actually holding me in the palm of His hand.

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