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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Vision Thing (25): More Given, or Taken Away

One day Isaiah had a vision (Isa. 6). He saw himself in the innermost recess of the temple of God, and he saw the Lord in blazing, humanoid form sitting on an elevated throne, and in a mysterious, impossible-to-picture phrase, "the hem of his robe filled the temple." Fiery, multi-winged beings swirled around him crying out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord who commands armies! His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!" The sound of praise was so deafening that the building shook, and smoke filled the temple.

It was only by seeing the terrifyingly awesome, barely describable visage of God that Isaiah could truly see himself: "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes of seen the King, the LORD of hosts" (v. 5, NASB). When Isaiah saw God's holiness, he saw his own uncleanness, and he saw the uncleanness of the people of whom he was an inseparable part, and he believed that he was a dead man for having somehow disgustingly invaded the presence of the all-powerful, unyieldingly clean God.

But God intervened. The unimpeachably Pure One purified Isaiah with the symbol of a burning coal on his mouth, separating and sanctifying Isaiah from among his people to speak God's pure words to them. And at that moment, having seen God and then seeing himself, Isaiah saw his people, Israel, as God saw their present and future:
Listen continually, but don't understand!
Look continually, but don't perceive!
Make the hearts of these people calloused;

make their ears deaf and their eyes blind!
Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed.
Isaiah had seen a vision of God and did exactly the right thing—he humbled himself and submitted to the One he saw. As a result, Isaiah was given a vision of his people. He was given many more visions from God—according to the first verse of his book, all 66 chapters of it describe them. He received more vision because he cherished and obeyed the vision that he had already been given.

Israel had been given a vision too—a vision of God on Sinai, visions of him through his acts of deliverance on their behalf over centuries, and prophets' recounting of their visions of God as instructions for the people. But rather than cherish and obey the visions, they treated them casually and neglected them. The result for them was that rather than getting more visions, they received less. Even the visions they did receive were hidden from their eyes. Having chosen not to see, they could not unchoose—they could not even see enough to recognize seeing as an option.

Isaiah asked God how long he would have to proclaim this message: see, you will be blind! God replied that it would be until Israel's blindness took them all the way into devastation and exile.

So Isaiah proclaimed this message. One time he excoriated the people for going to occultists for a message when the vision in God's Law and prophetic oracles were right in front of them. Their stubbornness revealed that they had "no dawn" (8:20, NASB), no light by which to see. Hungry, angry, in "distress and darkness, gloom and anxiety," they would perish in their blindness (vv. 21-22).

The very words that God gave Isaiah in Isaiah 6 were on the lips of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, were commented on by John, and were on Paul's lips as recorded in Acts.

Jesus taught using figures of speech that he sometimes deliberately chose not to explain, because the lack of understanding of those to whom he spoke was a self-confirming judgment, just as it was in Isaiah's day (Matt. 13:13-15). But Jesus called out a few students to see truly and listen fully just as God had called Isaiah. "You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven," he said, "but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him" (vv. 11-12).

This is the awesome, frightening, and exciting principle of vision: God gives more vision of himself, of ourselves, and of the world to those who keep our eyes fixed on the vision we already have. On the flip side, whoever neglects or ignores the vision God has given them lose even that and wander around blind.

This applies to all people. The person who obeys the little light they have gets more; the person who avoids the vision of God for the self-concocted or world-promulgated vision they want for themselves winds up with no vision at all.

It also applies to all churches. The church that devotes itself to seeing God, seeing what God sees, and obeying what God has shown that church to do will find its vision widened, deepened, and multiplied, touching lives that would have been unimaginable. The church that neglects the vision of God for a vision of its own institutional comfort, stability, and security loses all its sight and soon wanders, gradually but inexorably, into annihilation.

What a high-risk privilege! We have access to more of God's sight than we can conceive if we only follow what we have. And yet if we neglect it, we may never see God again.

However, if you have stumbled into darkness by neglecting the vision God gave you, there may yet be hope. Sometimes by his grace God does break the deserving blind out of their trap so that they see again. Isaiah prophesied, "The gloom will be dispelled for those who were anxious. . . . The people walking in darkness see a bright light; light shines on those who live in a land of deep darkness" (9:1). Jesus himself is the light of the world who shines in the darkness, and though the darkness cannot make sense of it, some do take that second chance to see and believe.

But if you have taken that second chance, why risk it again?

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