Sunday favorites

Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

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  • ReverendRef

    Also known as the Quaerite Dominum, or the Second Song of Isaiah (which actually goes to verse 11) and generally said on Fridays at the Morning Prayer Office.

    I guess that means it’s a Friday Favorite for me.

  • Amaryllis

    The first lines give me an unfortunate guitar-mass-song earworm.

    Other than that, it’s a good choice.

  • That the heavens are higher than the earth doesn’t make them better than the earth. In fact, the heavens are part of the earth — without them the earth would not exist as it does, and without the earth as it is, the heavens would not be as they are either. Yes, I know it’s a metaphor, but when what the metaphor calls back to doesn’t work like that, the metaphor doesn’t work either.

    I’m sorry, but this one never worked for me. Any of it.

  • For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.

    I can’t possibly think of any way fundamentalists could misuse this verse!

  • reynard61

    The ultimate irony may be that God isn’t necessarily speaking *for* Fundamentalists with that verse, but *to* them. Just sayin…

  • Nah, the ultimate irony might be that this verse means no one is correct — because, literally, not one human’s ways are even remotely like God’s ways.

    Someone will ask God “what is the meaning of life?” and the answer will be “To arrange orangutans in ascending order by how likely they are to hop one-legged over a bed of petunias and then bowl with them using plastic squares covered in KY jelly in place of a ball.”

    “Using the orangutans as pins?” the asker inquires hesitantly.

    “Heavens, no! They’ll be our bowling league! The pins are dinosaur ribs covered in indium alloy.”

  • reynard61

    Ah! “Blue and Orange Morality“! Gotcha…

    ETA: TV Tropes time-hole. You have been (belatedly) warned!

  • Jamoche

    I’m earwormed with an a cappella gospel version, so I think I’m better off :)

  • Gah, tvtropes link! There should be warnings for that. Some people may have things to do today ;).

  • Fusina

    Aaaaand, drum roll please…I think we have a winner. ;-) This is an awesome brain photo, thank you so much.

    I actually like this verse, it is one of those which sent me on my quest to shake down the bible and see what fell out. Also to look underneath and around and sometimes everywhere but the bible to discover how things work.

    Uh, some members of my family think I am a heretic now. But the god I follow does not–he wants questioners. And skeptics. And atheists to help his followers see when they are being too weird.

    Honestly, my best friend is an atheist. Her husband just shakes his head when he hears us discussing the finer points of evolution together–well, bad example, as we kind of agree totally one the how. The why? well, that is what religion is for, IMO.

  • I once had a long argument with someone about the nature of faith. My position was that faith should never be blind — that a truly faithful person should be willing to question and critically examine their faith. We measure the pinnacle of higher education by the capacity to take what one has learned and pull it apart, see its workings and put it back together in a completely different configuration.

    His position, of course, was that this was disrespectful to God and that there’s no way we could possibly uncover something we don’t already know in our hearts to be the absolute truth. He wasn’t much impressed by the fact that there have been 41,000 separate groups all claiming to hold the Absolute Truth, and that’s just within Christianity.

  • Amaryllis

    I’d say, myself, that the earth is part of the heavens, but the heavens– all the heavens– are not part of the earth. Connected, certainly, but not included, the way “the earth” is included in :”the heavens.” The whole is greater than the part.

    So I don’t see “better” in this passage: I see “more.” More in general, and specifically, a greater capacity for forgiveness and reconciliation.

    But perhaps you’ll like the next metaphor better, in which Isaiah refers to the hydrological cycle:

    As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
    and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
    and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
    so is my word that goes out from my mouth.

  • Hexep

    There is an arthropod the size of my thumb slamming itself repeatedly into my front door, so I am going to distract myself by writing about my little adventure today.

    Being that I was already in the area, I went to the world-famous Jing’an Temple. It has a number of interesting attractions – a statue of Guanyin carved out of a solid piece of white wood, a Buddha statue that is interesting for some reason that I forget, a four-story bronze throw-your-coin-in thing, and a massive, 9-ton silver Buddha statue that is approximately three stories tall. For a city of 27,000,000 people, Shanghai is surprisingly low on attractions, but this is a good one by any stretch of the imagination. (There has been a Shanghai for centuries, but for most of that time it was a tiny village – there are now tens of thousands of times as many people living there than did 2 centuries ago, probably the fastest population growth of any city of the same age. So not a lot of history, comparatively.)

    Anyway, one of the other attractions is this… well, I guess you’d call it; it’s a circular waist-high wall surrounding a carpeted floor, with a little hole in the middle. You’re supposed to throw coins at it and get them to land in the hole. It’s fun, I suppose; a really rudimentary carnival game. And so I rounded up the loose change in my pocket and decided to have a go, as I’m no good at the four-story throwing thing. (I tried; my coin clattered for an impossibly long time and then fell on someone’s head.)

    So I missed my first few throws, and there was a fair crowd there, and somebody casually asked their friend, ‘what’s the point of this?’ Feeling chirpy because of my religious observations, I replied, ‘It’s fun, I suppose.’

    Cue the person who is always waiting in the wings for the second I open my mouth to sweep in any say, ‘Oh, your Chinese is so good!’ In this case, it was a middle-aged woman, here unaccompanied. As I usually do in these cases, I reply, ‘thank you, yours is good, too.’ Except I don’t say ‘Chinese,’ I say ‘Mandarin,’ which is not the local dialect but nevertheless the one we were speaking. This gets a laugh from the assembled.

    (seriously. This arthropod out there, this beetle, is somewhere in size between my thumb and my penis. I am frightened to open my door.)

    This rustles her jimmies a little, and she asks me where I’m from. Specifically, she asks me, 你是哪里的? Translated literally as ‘where are you of,’ and with just as much ambiguity in this language as that. So I tell her the truth – ‘I am of Hong Kong.’

    This flusters her. I’m from Hong Kong? But my skin is the wrong color! So she asks me, ‘No, what country are you from?’ So I tell her, again, the abbreviated truth. ‘I am Chinese. I was born in Hong Kong; I only have a Hong Kong passport.’ (That last sentence is technically a lie, but I have never used my South African passport and don’t ever intend to.)

    “Where are your parents from?” “Hong Kong also,” I tell her. This is also not true, and I know it’s not, but I don’t feel like telling her, ‘Oh, my dad was born in Africa, but his dad was born in England and his mom was an Afrikaner, and I have no idea where my mom was from, she had a Slavic last name but it wasn’t feminized so she was from some non-Slavic country,” so I just fobbed her off and said, ‘Hong Kong also.” Laughter from the audience.

    Now she’s really frustrated, and so she goes on a rant. First she tells the rest of the audence, “He doesn’t understand,” the most annoying phrase in this language. “他听不懂。“He does not understand the of what I say.” Then she turns back to me and says, “No, I’m asking about your ancestral origins. Maybe you were born in Hong Kong, but you’re not part of the Han race. Your race doesn’t originate from there. I’m asking where your people come from.”

    “Hong Kong,” I reply. “I don’t trace my family back any farther than that.” (Again, partially true.) So now she informs the audience again that I 听不懂, and asks me in English, ‘Where are you from?’

    So I shoot back, in English, ‘I am from Hong Kong.’ Roars of laughter from the crowd. She proclaims again that I 听不懂 and wanders away.

    It must be really fun to hassle minorities and remind them that they don’t belong. I’d like to go to a foreign country and do it, some day, just to see what it’s like.

  • Fusina

    Yeah. I have a hard time with “Ultimate absolute truth and only we have it” attitudes. Which is not to say that I wasn’t like this once upon a time, but as the character in MP& the Holy Grail said, “I got better”. In many ways, questing is scary, because there are no absolute rules, but it is a very free way to be. I am free to question, seek, ask, look–and no big “father in the sky” is going to squash me with his thumb. I am actually the final arbiter of what I do. Forbidden fruit may be tasty, but free will is way better. Just my opinion here.

  • Launcifer

    I believe that there is a logical response to this. Ideally, this response is both somewhat pithy and exceedingly erudite, if only after the fact. All I’ve got, however, is “Ook!”
    And it’s kind of a shame I can only like this once, as it were.

  • The whole of the universe is an intergalactic game of competitive Solitaire, where we take turns imagining ourselves with the worst hand.

  • Launcifer

    Ach, you’re okay until you realise you’re the only one not playing Bridge ;).

  • The rain and snow do return to the sky. That’s why it’s called a “cycle”.

    Also, it’s rather convenient for Isaiah to elevate the words coming from his own mouth.

  • Amaryllis

    I know the rain and snow return to the sky: that was the point. It’s a metaphor in which the heavens and the earth are intimately connected. The rain and the snow return to the sky after becoming part of the earth and therefore making it capable of supporting life. Just as the prophet says.

    Nor does. “my word” refer to what the poet is actually saying in this actual passage. The idea of “the word of the Lord” existed long before this Isaiah wrote about it.

    But, it’s a poem, there’s room for disagreement in interpretation and response. And, if Fred keeps making his way through this chapter, doubtless we’ll disagree about it again next week.

  • To be fair, several translations don’t say they return. They specifically say otherwise, phrasing it “rain and snow fall from the sky and don’t return, but water the ground,” implying they soak into the soil and get soaked up by the plants and nothing else.

    Some are particularly explicit in having the opposite meaning, like The Voice: “For as rain and snow can’t go back once they’ve fallen, but soak into the ground And nourish the plants that grow, providing seed to the farmer and bread for the hungry […]”

    The NIV could be engaging in post-hoc reasoning to support the science of the water cycle. It specifically changes “but” into “until.” The NIV is also the same version that changed a line in Exodus so that “the baby is dead-born” became “the baby is born prematurely but otherwise healthy,” which is why this difference in wording is particularly conspicuous. I compared it against every other translation biblegateway had on hand and the “until” wording appears to first show up in 1966 in the Jerusalem Bible and then appear sporadically afterward.

  • Hmm. The Revised Standard Version seems to imply a more literalist view that the rain simply falls and stays there:

    “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and return not thither but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

    I suspect that the wording was back-corrected in some versions to make it more symmetrical with this one:

    so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

  • I think that if you feel the need to fiddle with your translation to “fix” a passage whose concept is “Rain can’t un-fall”, there is something seriously wrong with your whole hermenutic.

    (Contrariwise, if you’re so dedicated to “debunking” the bible that you feel the need to say “Well technically…” to a passage whose concept is clearly “Rain can’t un-fall”, you need a better hobby.)

  • Amaryllis


    * checks parallel translations page *

    Yes, you’re all quite right, the “until” phrasing appears to be in the minority. Like the NIV translators, I was seduced by symmetry.

  • The core meaning of the verse is still intact–the word of God isn’t being wasted on earthly souls and neither is its purpose to be directed heavenward–but I wouldn’t recommend using it to prove the Bible has scientific accuracy. ^^