Living in the Worldview of Isaiah

This post is actually the final concluding section of a lengthier paper I recently wrote on the book of Isaiah. The title of that paper was How Creation & Eschatology Form an Integrated Worldview in Isaiah. A full pdf is available for download at the end of this post. For most of my readers however, what will be most interesting is the conclusion, the takeaways from my study in Isaiah. These takeaways were specifically designed for pastors to consider as they labored in Isaiah, but will bless any Christian who is hungry to apply their Bible’s well. I do encourage at least browsing the lengthier pdf at the end, as all of these conclusions are built on the infrastructure of that work. Enjoy!

We Live in a World of Order and Objective Truth
First, just as Isaiah pierced through the voices and ideologies of his day, there is a need for pastors to pierce through the mess of postmodernism with the order and objectivity of the God who both created the world with purpose, infused it with certain values and principles, and is leading it towards a God-designed definite end. Francis Schaeffer provides a fitting critique of modern man’s worldview in relation to semiotics. He somewhat playfully writes, “To the new theology, the usefulness of a symbol is in direct proportion to its obscurity.” Schaeffer’s point is a reference to the postmodern dilemma, what he calls their descent below the “line of despair.” This line of despair is the reality that modern man, in an effort to detach himself from all metanarratives, has removed the very grounds from beneath his feet that had provided objectivity in the first place. Even many self-confessed Christians, unknowingly infused with post-modern thought, believe in the subjectivity of truth, and therefore the lack of any objectivity in reality at all. They have sunk below Schaeffer’s “line of despair.”

Likewise, postmodernism has accepted a “disbelief in metanarratives and opposition to metanarratives as characteristic of postmodernity.” The detaching of modern man from his mythical history has had drastic effects on his worldview. Leslie Newbigin insightfully suggests that a “strange fissure thus runs right through the consciousness of modern Western man. The ideal that he seeks would eliminate all ideals. With dedicated zeal he purposes to explain the world as something that is without purpose.” Christopher Watkin expresses a similar dilemma of modern man when he writes that “to dispense with the idea of God requires a radical overhaul of other concepts that are dependent on God and his character: Ideas like truth, beauty, goodness, justice, meaning, and humanity.” Like Neitzche’s madman, postmodern men are destined to walk detached from any basis for objectivity and order. Or as Cornelius Van Til suggests, the nontheistic assumption “denies its creaturehood. It will not be receptive of God’s interpretation; it wants to create its own interpretation without reference to God. It thus tries to do the impossible with the result that self-frustration is written over all its efforts.”

Isaiah beckons us to cut through Schaeffer’s despair, Neitzche’s madness, and Van Til’s self-frustration with the objectivity of God’s Word. He reminds us that we are not free to interpret reality however we see fit. The signs and the symbols have objective meaning and they are to form an objective basis for living. Our creation heritage is true and cannot be wished away through modern interpretation. Where we came from and where are headed are part of our identity, our very worldview through which we must interpret all of reality.
Living with a Worldview Certainty that Drives Hope

Second, considering how both creation and eschatology feed off of one another in Isaiah, the prophet provides a basis for certainty which ought to drive a hope in the midst of an often seemingly hopeless world. In Augustine’s Confessions, while retelling the story of his conversion, he writes of a moment when the certainty of his faith came to be. “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” Alan Lightman, a self-confessed materialist philosopher, comments on Augustine’s certainty, “Certainty, like permanence and immortality, is one of those conditions we long for despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary.” Lightman goes on to explore, according to his materialistic worldview, the evolutionary reasons for why humans crave certainty. After a few ruminations on the lack of certainty in an atheistic world Lightman writes, “I will admit that I’m not feeling cheerful after these ruminations.” Lightman, like Schaeffer described previously, has a worldview devoid of certainty and has therefore sunk beneath the line of despair.

Isaiah calls his audience to live in the reality of certainty. Creation and eschatology function together as the push and pull of our lives guiding us through the turmoil of life in a fallen world. Though Assyria and Babylon may rise, the certainty of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty is to provide the Christian with a steady contentment despite circumstances. When Israel was tempted to lose sight of the certainty of their story in the face of tyrants hostile to them and their God, Isaiah called them to a true anchor of certainty. Every hopeful eschatological passage of Isaiah beckons modern readers to find their certainty in the God who is there.

Living in Babylon while Hoping for Heaven

In an excellent essay titled The Protest against Imperialism in Ancient Israelite Prophecy, Moshe Weinfeld demonstrates similarities and differences between the Hebrew prophets understanding of empire and the other ancient near eastern gods. He explains how the Hebrew prophets were the first to envision a “new ideal kingdom built on the ruins of a former ruthless empire.” They were “the first in world history to raise their voice against imperial tyranny and to depict instead a glorious picture of mankind living in harmony under divine guidance.” For Isaiah this was applied to Assyria and then to Babylon. For Isaiah’s audience, this eschatological vision permitted them to embrace the tension of their geo-political circumstance. For us, if we are willing, it will do the same.

In a chapter titled Eschatology and Identity, Christopher Watkin writes that the Christian self is “an eschatological self that exists in the mode of anticipation. It is a self not of static essences but of faith and hope, a self forever displaced and exceeded by its desire for God.” In the midst of the ever-growing mountain of empires, some political and others simply ideological, that vie for the Christians heart, this eschatological identity points us forward through the fray. While Watkin sees this unique part of our identity as fundamentally rooted in our eschatology, Isaiah might argue that it is both our eschatology and our creation story that function together, to form this stable identity for living in exile.
Further, this creation-eschatological-identity removes the pressures that cause so much of modern man’s identity crises. In a world without God, the modern mantra of ‘you only live once’ puts a frightening perspective on life. We are forced to be and accomplish everything immediately, lest we lose our only chance at happiness and fulfilment. But a worldview anchored in the creational push of God and pulled by the certain telos of God is alleviated of that pressure. “My identity can be messy, confusing, and even frustrating to me in the present in a way that does not signal an ultimate or final denial of who I am.” The Christian is not crushed by the tyranny of the urgent to accomplish all now in order to prove himself for the day of the Lord is certainly on the horizon. What a distinct and peculiar people we ought to be!

The Simple Humble God-Centered Christian
In the process of writing this paper, there has been one verse within Isaiah that has most personally ministered to me, Isaiah 66:2. After an entire book of themes that involved everything from creation bearing witness to the depravity of Israel, to the rise and fall of empires, to the coming of the savior who would take away the sins of the world, to the incredible eschatological hope of the new heavens and the new Earth, the prophet speaks practically to the simple soul. “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). I cannot help but wonder if this is the ultimate place the prophet was aiming all along. Having spent some time now mesmerized by the mountain peaks of Isaiah, I have found a rather joyful steadiness in this little verse. Like Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, who having concerned himself with epoch-shaping battles between good and evil, found that the truly good life was back in the humble shire all along. John Watts masterfully summarizes this perspective when he writes that “God’s pleasure is at its peak in the individual tryst with each humble and contrite soul that seeks him out on Jerusalem’s high and holy mountain (or anywhere else). In the simple and lowly attitude of devotion and prayer God’s creation achieves the goal for which it was intended.”

The final phrase of Watts, “achieves the goal for which it was intended” perfectly blends together the grand purpose of this paper in the simplest of ways. Our simple lives are not without meaning or purpose, rather they are led by a telos designed by God himself. As we eagerly await the final redemption of all things, it is this humble faithful heart that God is most pleased in. In the midst of the tension of the already-not-yet, the glory of Christ’s resurrection matched by the eager longing for the redemption of all things, the humble simple life of surrender and worship is what pleases our God the most.

See full original pdf on bottom of this page.
Posted in

No Comments