I signed up for BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) again this year, despite some things I don’t care for about the program, because this year they’re doing Isaiah.
I really like Isaiah, and it’s already been good to spend a week poring over a chapter or three.
We’ve done just two lessons, and both have brought out some of the deeper stuff I worry / think / feel / wonder about.
First — the meaning of righteousness and what God does or does not require of us. Sometimes it seems like there are two standards of righteousness in the Bible, and I’m not quite sure how to integrate them. On the one hand, you have many people described as righteous because they have faith / believe God / are “after God’s own heart” (David) / “upright” (Job). On the other hand, you have many verses that talk about how breaking the law in any part is still breaking the law, about how no one is righteous, no, not one, no one does good, no one seeks God. And how can these co-exist?
Is N. T. Wright right that righteousness is about covenant faithfulness, which on the part of people seems to be a sort of “good enough” sincerity of belief and practice?
Or are the Reformers right that righteousness is about the moral and relational perfection that we can’t even approximate, and the perfection Christ achieved and attributes to us via the Cross?
And, while it’s easy to say that Christians are to live holy lives, does that mean we are to live with constant fear and vigilance to catch and repent of every sin at every moment, or does it mean — something else?
Second: The second chapter of Isaiah talks about God’s people as children who have been raised lovingly but who have rebelled. The notes talk about “a spirit of rebellion and defiance as they are determined to get their own way.”
Language like this raises red flags for me. It is definitely possible for people in authority to use words like “love” and “peace” and “protection” and “for your own good” to oppress people under their authority. And in such cases, it is absolutely essential for the oppressed one to have that determination to get their own way — to survive, to stay a self.
I confess that at times I even fear God is this kind of so-called benevolent dictator, oppressing us and hiding it with pretty words. If a good thing is a glimpse of God’s goodness, what is a bad thing? When there is good and bad in evidence around us, what does that evidence actually teach us about God?
It’s a matter of knowing his character — you have to start with some assumptions, or some fundamental piece of evidence, and use that to judge the rest. The Cross remains the foundational evidence of God’s love for us. When the other evidence gets murky, the Cross still stands.
Anyway, I found it interesting how — personal — that paragraph in the notes and the relevant passage in Isaiah 2 were for me this week. Whence the power of this fear and its defensiveness and suspicion… will I eventually metabolize it sufficiently so as to really trust God?
And the current challenge — to parent Amy in a truly loving way and not to use my authority to oppress her, and to be very careful how I use the pretty words of “love” and “for your own good.”