God is great: I don’t need to control everything! (Is. 40:9-31)

Publié le 1 mai 2022 dans Traductions

Sermon preached by Pastor Samuel Niblack on 24th April 2022

We’ve just sang, « transcendent word, immanent word. » Transcendent and immanent –these are not words we use every day. The dictionary gives the following definition for the word « transcendent »: surpassing the ordinary; exceptional. And for « immanent »: existing or operating within; inherent.

In the past, when humans had a problem, a challenge, or a drama, they called upon something transcendent. Sometimes, they would do it too easily, which is superstition. Let’s take an example: your car won’t start. « It’s because the planets aren’t nicely aligned. » (transcendent explanation). « You didn’t put gas in it. » (immanent explanation).

Today, it is the opposite. When humans have a problem, a challenge, they only seek a solution in the physical world. As philosopher Charles Taylor said, « The great invention of the West was that of an immanent order in Nature, whose working could be systematically understood and explained on its own terms. » We are thus freed from the need for a transcendent Creator. In this day and age, we are quite proud of this invention. At last, man is taking up the challenge of fending for himself. We no longer wait for magical solutions that fall from the sky. We have freed ourselves from the crutch of religion. We roll up our sleeves and take care of ourselves. How supremely noble!

But as French author Jérôme Ferrari recently admitted, « I’m in need of transcendence ». Indeed, to eliminate a great God, an all-powerful God, a Creator, truly leaves a vacuum. And there is always something that will fill that void: the State, the media, technology, and also our inner self, with a tendency to control everything.

This morning, I’d like to say that it’s tiring and stressful to play the role of God, and control everything in life. I’d like to suggest a transcendent solution: trust in a great God!

Let’s read Isaiah 40:9-31

Chapter 40 begins the second section of the book of Isaiah. In the first section, the prophet’s message is quite harsh, a message of warnings, of judgments, a message that Israel will not listen to. In the second section, Isaiah already anticipates the future day when Israel needs to be comforted after the judgment. It’s like a doctor who first announces the bad news of illness, and then announces the good news of treatment.

In v9, what is the good news? « Your God is here! Here is the Lord God… » I hope the same message brings us comfort this morning.

We’re going to look at 3 points:

1. This great God is more powerful than you.

2. This great God is smarter than you,

3. So let him carry you and guide you.

1. He is more powerful than you.

The first good news is that God is powerful. 40:10, « Here is the Lord God, coming with strength, with a triumphant arm, bringing his reward with him and his payment before him. » To appreciate this power, Isaiah says to think of a) the universe, b) the nations and their great powers and c) other deities.

When you are worried, or tired, or tempted to control everything, think of the universe. In v12, Isaiah takes 4 basic measurement tools: a palm, a ruler, a cup, and a scale. God holds the volume of all the waters within the palm of his hand, he measures the extent of all the galaxies and the mass of all the earth with a ruler, and he quietly supports the weight of all the mountains and all the hills on his own scales. This is poetic –Isaiah is not saying that the palm of God’s hand is exactly 8.8 x 1026 meters, or 93 billion light-years. He also mentions the number and arrangement of the planets and stars. In v26, « Look up at the sky and consider: Who created these? The one who brings out their attendants one by one, summoning each of them by name. Because of God’s great strength and mighty power, not one is missing. » (And since then, we have had telescopes, and we can see that 300,000 new stars are born every minute. And as a matter of fact, God finds more interesting names for each one of them than names like « 2MASS J17554042+6551277 ». It’s so easy for him whereas I have so much trouble just finding a first name!… Sometimes it feels good to be small.

Let’s us also think of great nations and great powers. When we look at man, we can be impressed by his progress, his power, and the greatness of civilizations. At the time, it was Babylon with its emperors. However, Isaiah says in v15, that nations are like a drop in a bucket, and are valued as dust. Thus, pyramids, skyscrapers, temples, towers, bridges, or even great corporates like Airbus, are just a drop, a speck of dust, or a locust. In v23-24, he also talks about leaders who are useless and rulers who are nothing. And it’s good to keep that in mind when you think about today’s elections in France or the war raging in Ukraine. If the greatest achievements and the greatest powers among the nations are « useless » and « nothing » compared to God, so better not to trust in them!

Finally, to better understand God’s power and greatness, Isaiah mentions idols, images, and other deities. In pagan thought, a god is a small local deity that must be appeased, tamed, controlled through sacrifices and figurines. The rich can certainly make an idol out of gold whereas the poor have to settle for wood. But in any case, if your god is stored on a shelf or in your pocket, it is because he is not powerful. If your god needs to recharge its battery every night, he is not very powerful. If your God can’t function without you tithing, he’s not very powerful.

v16, « Lebanon doesn’t have enough fuel; its animals aren’t enough for an entirely burned offering. » This verse challenges all religions. If God is all-powerful, it means that in some way, you can’t do anything for him. He doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need money. He doesn’t need your services and sacrifices. The Christian God is the only one who does not ask for any. On the contrary, to become a Christian is to recognize just as hymn writer Eliza Hamilton, « No preparation can I make, My best resolves I only break, Yet save me for thy mercy’s sake And take me as I am. » To become a Christian is to recognize that this transcendent God has become the immanent God, in Jesus, to become himself the one sufficient holocaust.

2. God is smarter than you.

Raw power in itself is not always reassuring. It’s better when it goes hand in hand with perfect wisdom, intelligence. This is the other aspect of God’s greatness that Isaiah emphasizes in v13-14, « Who directed the Lord’s spirit and acted as God’s advisor? Whom did he consult for enlightenment? Who taught him the path of justice and knowledge and explained to him the way of understanding? », and in v28, « Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He doesn’t grow tired or weary. His understanding is beyond human reach… »

The one who knew how to exactly place the planets so that there could be life on Earth; the one who knew how to perfectly manage the history of the nations in order to end up with the events occurring at Easter as planned all along (through the history of the Jews, the history of the nations like the Babylonians, the history of the Roman empire, etc.); this one is necessarily much more intelligent and wiser than you.

This brings us to the simple but very useful conclusion for our everyday lives: God may have reasons to act in a certain way that are patently beyond us.

Why did God give me this body? I would have wanted another one. Why did God put me into that family? I would have wanted a different one. Why did God give me these abilities, or this personality? I would have wanted something else. Why did God put me through this or that ordeal? I wish He hadn’t. In times such as these, it is a consolation, it is a good news to think of this great, perfectly wise God.

3. So let him carry you and guide you

In v27, « Why do you say, Jacob, and declare, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, my God ignores my predicament’? » When you forget this transcendent God, you have to manage your own destiny, you have to try to control everything, to always protect yourself… but it’s tiring.

It’s psychologically tiring to have to create an identity different from the one God has given us, or to try to control our destiny. It’s tiring to play the Savior-of-the-world role, or Judge-of-the-universe part if you are not Jesus. Don’t even try!

Don’t be like the wife who thinks, « I must control my husband to sanctify him… » Or like this father who says, « I must control my children to make them succeed; I must never show weakness; I must never ask for forgiveness. » Or like that young person on social networks who thinks, « I have to know everything about everyone, so I have to stay up to date with what’s happening moment by moment. »

It’s truly exhausting. But to trust God gives you strength, and it’s relaxing. Faith is to let God be God. It’s to let the Creator figure out the solution. It’s to let the Savior save.

In v31, « but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will fly up on wings like eagles; they will run and not be tired; they will walk and not be weary. » Like the eagles that fly, they seem to make little effort. It is the air and the wind that carry them. These eagles go higher and farther than a young sprinter in his prime, the strength coming from himself, an immanent strength, while the eagle is carried. This great God, who can carry you to the cross, can carry you forever.