In the reading from Isaiah (Is 63:16-17, 19; 64:2-7), the prophet is longing for the love of God. But what he finds instead is what he cannot bear: God angry, God gone. The experience the prophet gives voice to is familiar to all of us. God is angry and has hidden his face; he is somewhere above the heavens, and we cannot find him there.
How can this be? How can this be? Doesn’t God love us? Where is he? Why isn’t he here?
The prophet answers these questions, and in the saddest way. The reason ies in our sinfulness, the prophet says. God is not gone from us because he has forsaken us. Our sins—our weaknesses, our willfulness, our pride, our failure to love, our failure even to accept the love of others—all these things have made us wither. Desiccated and unclean, we have been blown away from God by the winds of life.
But how are we supposed to be holy—clean and good—for the Lord, except by the Lord’s own doing? We reject as Pelagian the thought that any one of us can make himself holy by his own efforts. Only God’s grace can make a person lovely in holiness.
And so the prophet cries out to God, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways?”
There is an answer in the Psalm. The Psalmist says, “Lord, make us turn to you!” This cry is from a person who wanders from the Lord. He wanders because he wants to—that is the sad truth. But when he can’t find God in his wandering, he cries to God, “Make me turn to you!” Then he wants fervently not to want the very wandering he is so prone to want.
Maybe then God lets us do what we want to do, including wandering from him, until we at least want to want him. Maybe we will find him when we can cry with the Psalmist, “Lord, make me turn to you!”
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University