I was reading Gently and Lowly by Dane Ortlund this week and I learned something new that I found incredibly humbling. It is one of those truths that you almost hate to share because you know that your words will fall short of the heart stoppage that you felt when you learned the truth. But I am going to try anyway and trust the Spirit will speak to your heart.
Isaiah 55:8,9 are familiar verses to us. They read, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares 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.” We often quote these verses, or some version of them, when our life gets complicated and we are not sure of what God is doing in our lives. We use them to remind us that God sees and thinks completely different than we do. It is a good reminder. But these verses, in their context, reveal far more about the heart of God.
Isaiah 55:6-9 reads this way, “Seek the Lord while he may be found call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares 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.” Israel has been wicked and they are told to seek the Lord and forsake their wicked ways and thoughts so that God can do what he desires to do...have compassion on them and abundantly pardon them. The idea that God would desire to show compassion and to abundantly pardon his children, time and time again, when they have been wicked is what is too much for us to understand. Those gracious and loving thoughts and actions are the thoughts and ways of verses eight and nine. That God would have that much compassion and willingness to forgive is so foreign to our hearts that to best illustrate that span Isaiah uses the distance between heaven and earth. Even greater than that, the idea being presented is that God’s willingness and desire to show compassion and pardon is so great that we cannot fathom it.
We sometimes begin to think that the default position of God is his anger and wrath. God is simply looking for us to fail. Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s first response is to love and show compassion and he must be provoked to anger. We must also understand that much of that anger is against that which is hurting us. Like a loving father, he loves to abundantly forgive. All he asks is that his children seek him. Time and time again we fail him. We sin. We lack the desire to be with him. And each time, every time, when we turn back to him he mercifully shows compassion and abundantly pardons.
What does it mean to abundantly pardon? Here are some terms I have meditating on to help me understand it in my own heart: quickly, without reservations, happily, fully, with joy, no second thoughts, chooses to remember our sin no more, buries it deep and far, makes me feel welcome again, with tears...you can add your own thoughts. To be honest, that type of forgiveness is impossible for me to fully understand. Again, the closest I have is when my children seek my forgiveness and I know my heart is so willing to forgive. Multiply that by a million and it might begin to help me understand the heart of God.
His thoughts and ways truly are not like ours. His compassion and willingness to abundantly pardon is far greater than I can ever understand. The love for me that compels him to pursue me is beyond my ability to fully understand. I am ashamed, that at times, I find my heart is like that in Revelation 3. He is standing outside knocking, waiting to come in, and I am too busy with my life to sit down and eat with my Savior who loves me with an everlasting, perfect, love. Not today. Today my heart is turned toward him and he is so full of joy to spend time with me. Unbelievable.