How many times have you been in a (shall we call it a) ‘discussion’ with a Fundamentalist Christian, and they play their ‘trump card’: ‘Ah, but God’s ways are higher than our ways!’ This is usually because they have not thought things through properly, or perhaps they think that (as is so often the case in such circles) a quick, trite answer is required (which they don’t have), or maybe they just feel that they have ‘lost the argument’ and therefore this is their fall-back position; essentially, it’s saying, ‘I’m right, but I can’t prove it and I don’t want you to argue with me any more’. And then this Scripture backs them up by them essentially saying (and enforcing) ‘Who are you to argue with God?’. Maybe they just don’t know. Or, sometimes, it may be exactly what is needed – God’s ways are indeed higher than ours…but maybe not in the way that Fundies generally mean.
I read a fabulous Facebook post (yes, there are such things) the other day by Lee O’Hare, a man who has some brilliant insights which are well worth sharing, and it really spoke to me – and I learned something new that I hadn’t noticed before. And so I thought I’d share it here.
Over to Lee:
“MY WAYS ARE NOT YOUR WAYS”
“If something is universally condemned by all civilized human society as being cruel, barbaric and unconscionable, is it OK if God does it? Does being God give Him the right to violate the very moral laws by which we ourselves are held accountable and judged, or is He exempt simply because He is God – and who are we to question His mysterious ways?”
I actually thought, and still do, that this was a very good and legitimate question. What I am addressing here is the problem I see of a dual morality, i.e., believing that something which is obviously repugnant and completely unacceptable because of its blatant inherent evil – such as torture, genocide, sexual slavery, infanticide, etc. is actually OK and acceptable if God is the one doing it or commanding that it be done. In response to posing such a “scandalous” question I was told things such as that I was “walking on dangerous ground” for daring to question God’s ways. And, as one person asked, “Who are you to question God who is so much more holy and just than you will ever be?”
The thing that I heard most often was a reference to, or quote of, the very famous passage from Isaiah 55:8-9, which I believe has become the #1 cop-out verse for fundamentalists whenever pressed to actually think for themselves. This is what it says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the Lord.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (NIV)
As a matter of fact, I have heard this particular passage used so often in response to any attempt to ask hard questions about things we have traditionally been taught about God, that I felt it necessary to take a serious closer look at this famous passage and specifically to look at the actual context in which it is found, in hopes of maybe ascertaining what the true and original intent of the prophet Isaiah was in writing this.
If you actually read the entire chapter in which those two verses are lifted out of context you will find that the entire chapter is all about the overwhelming love, grace, mercy and kindness of God that is freely flowing out to all people. The chapter begins with the invitation, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat.” He goes on to talk about the “everlasting covenant” of “lovingkindness” that He will make with David, which we know is a direct reference to Jesus who is the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. In verses 4 and 5 God speaks of the expansiveness of His mercy and kindness and how David (Jesus) will be a witness to “all the people” and will “summon nations you do not know” and “nations that do not know you will hasten to you (Jesus)”.
In these verses the Lord is chastising His people for their small minded myopic understanding of His mercy and the extent and reach of His covenant faithfulness (lovingkindness). They were convinced that Yahweh belonged only to them – He was their national God and those outside of the bloodline of Israel were foreigners and aliens to the God of covenant and were hopelessly separated and cut off from the promises of God. In these verses the Lord is correcting and rebuking them for their narrow and exclusive understanding of His mercy and compassion. He is challenging their thinking by declaring His intent and desire to pour our His love upon all people and all people groups. This entire chapter goes on and on extravagantly describing the outlandish lovingkindness that Yahweh has for all. Verse 7 really sums it up, “Let them turn to the Lord that He might have compassion on them, for He will forgive them generously.”
THAT is the verse that immediately precedes the passage in question: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways.”
Rather than this being some kind of statement about how we must never question God’s ways or try to understand His mysterious thoughts because they are so high above our ability to grasp and understand, this statement is actually a reproof to them for their small minded and narrow understanding of His mercy, compassion and love for His people. When He says “My ways are not your ways” He is not telling them that He lives and operates in a separate moral universe that we could never understand and therefore have no business questioning.
So how exactly are God’s ways higher than ours? In the context of all the above the obvious and only reasonable answer is that He has outrageous love and mercy and that He freely pardons and forgives. Isaiah 55:8-9 is NOT about us not daring to ask legitimate questions regarding things that trouble us that have been passed down to us from a fundamentalist religious interpretation of the Bible. It has absolutely nothing to do with that and those who throw these verses up to defend from asking important questions about the character and nature of God are completely missing the point. This passage is ALL ABOUT the amazing, uncomprehendable and limitless love and mercy of Abba God who is fully and finally revealed to us in Jesus Christ – who is the image of the invisible God and the exact representation of His being.
– Lee O’Hare