my ways are higher than your ways

Posted: August 17, 2010 in Christianity
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Have you heard someone say “Gods ways are higher than our ways?” If you’ve spent any time around Christians or church, I’m sure you have. When I hear it, this is normally the chain of events that have lead up to it: 1) people are discussing something about God, 2) one person puts forth a theological idea, 3) another person questions that idea, usually regarding the illogical or contradictory nature of the claim, 4) the first person responds by quoting Isaiah 55:9 – “My ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.” Why is this done? Well, the person quoting this verse usually intends for it to mean “I know what I just said regarding God doesn’t make sense but you’ll have to believe it anyway because its true and we just can’t understand everything about God.”

Hmm. Sorry, chief, that just doesn’t it right with me.

Its just not OK to use one verse in the middle of a huge Old Testament prophetic book to defend a New Testament theological point that may or may not have sufficient scriptural backing. So what is the verse actually talking about? Glad you asked! You have to look at the verse in context – who wrote it, who was it written to and why it was written. Lets grasp the big picture first then we’ll deal with the specifics of the verse in question.

The book of Isaiah is God speaking to His people – the nation of Israel – through the man Isaiah. The first part of the book deals with His people’s failings and God’s right to judge their sin and unfaithfulness. Next, around chapter 40, He switches gears and begins to say that instead of administering the deserved punishment to the Israelites, He will show mercy to them and redeem them instead. He then moves on to explain His plan of redemption through the coming Messiah and at chapter 53 we have the famous description of Jesus receiving the penalty for our sin.

So now we come to chapter 55 where, in light of God’s mercy and redemptive plan, He is telling Israel to respond to His goodness. In verses 6 and 7 He says:

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
Call on him now while he is near.
Let the wicked change their ways
and banish the very thought of doing wrong.
Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them.
Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. (NLT)

Now we have arrived at the verse in question. He continues in verse 8 and 9:

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.

Do you see what this verse is saying? He is saying our way is to punish the unrighteous. Our way is to leave the dying for dead. But His ways are better – if you are willing to turn from your evil and follow Him, He will save you even though He has every right not to. What a beautiful scripture! What a picture of God’s justice and mercy! Thank God that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us! You see, in an effort to defend our theological positions and prove our ideas right, this passage has been misused and taken out of context. Its not God’s way of saying “don’t try to figure me out – I’ll do whatever I want.” Its His way of saying “I know its hard to believe but, yeah, I am that good.”

Lets show some integrity when it comes to defending our theological stances. You can believe what you’d like. But if you’re going to use the Bible to defend your belief system, lets use verses for their intended purpose and not make them say what we want them to say. You just can’t use this verse to defend your theological point by saying “we just can’t understand God.” Yes, lets quote this verse and quote it often. But lets not make it about our ideology – lets use it in context to show the amazingly illogical and dangerously passionate love and mercy of God!

  1. wellwateredgarden says:

    Hey, good message …

    You mention that Isaiah was writing God’s message to the nation of Israel, but then you say that ‘Jesus received the penalty for OUR sin.’

    So … is this message for Israel or for the rest of the world?

  2. Jamie says:

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
    Great question! The message is for both Israel and the world. The original context is for Israel since God chose to begin with them and Jesus came as their Messiah. However, we Christians know that Jesus was not just the plan of salvation for the Jews alone but for the world (John 3:16,17) so we can apply these verses to us since they speak of how He redeemed us as well.

  3. jonathangroover says:

    Good stuff Jamie! It’s good to hear someone clarify this very beautiful passage and not attribute it to the arbitrary mystery of God.

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