Based in St. Cloud, Minnesota, Growing in Grace is a blog by Pastor Matthew Molesky. His posts explore the Bible, theology, ecclesiology, culture, books, family, and life.

God at Arm's Length


Some love it (ME!).

Some hate it.

And God has some very clear things to say about it, in of all places, the book of Isaiah. In the midst of the prophet's proclamations, we find him revealing with sing-song rhythm the importance of reading to the pursuit of God.

"Hesitate, and remain perplexed!
Blind yourselves, and be blind!
They are intoxicated, but it is not wine!
Unsteady, but it is not intoxication!
For Yahweh has poured on them a spirit of torpor —
he has shut their eyes (the prophets),
and their heads (the seers) he has covered over.
And the vision of the whole has become to them
like the words of a closed book,
which they give to one who knows how to read,
saying, ‘Please read this,’
and he says, ‘I cannot, for it is closed’.
And the book is given to one who does not know
how to read,
saying, ‘Please read this,’
and he says, ‘I do not know how to read’.
And the Sovereign said:
‘Because this people has approached with their mouth,
and with their lips have honoured me,
and their heart they have distanced from me,
and their fear of me is a human commandment,
something taught,
therefore, behold,
I will once again perform a marvel among this people,
perform a marvel, a marvel indeed,
and the wisdom of their wise ones will perish,
and the discernment of their discerning ones will hide
itself away!’"  
(Isaiah 29:9-14, Alec Motyer translation)

In my continued (months-long now) study of Isaiah, Alec Motyer has proven to be an incredibly helpful and trusted friend each morning as I make my way through the text. It is amazing how just two sawbucks gets me unfettered access to the heart and mind of a brilliant Isaiah scholar!

Here is what he had to share with me this morning:

Isaiah paints a very vivid picture.

Here is a closed book, and the person who is able to read can’t be bothered; it’s too much trouble to open it. And the person who can’t read is content to leave it like that; it’s of no importance to try to find out what the book is about.

But the book in question is God’s book, his Word of truth; it brings the knowledge of God; without it all is at best surmise, at worst idle fancy and error. How swiftly Isaiah’s picture leaps over the 2,700 years since he put it on paper! He might well be living today and describing how things are all round.

Here is a life-long churchgoer, a devout, serious man (I could tell you his name), but he says, ‘Never at any time in my life have I read the Bible for myself.’ He can read, but can’t be bothered, and — tragedy of tragedies — the church he attends encourages religion and ritual but not personal Bible-reading.

And here is a man talking confidently of life after death, sure that ‘Gran’ is there, ‘watching over us like she always did’, himself unafraid in the face of death. He might as well not be able to read because the Bible does not matter.

And here is a converted, committed Christian with a datable experience of accepting the Lord Jesus as Saviour, and for the sake of thirty extra minutes in bed, or because life’s busyness comes crowding in, or because at the day’s end tiredness makes its claim, it’s suddenly too much trouble to open the closed book, not important enough to read, receive, welcome and expose mind, heart and soul to the precious Word of God.

And here is a Christian worker — believe me: I’m not inventing but quoting — ‘I’m occupied with the Bible all day so when I get to bed it’s a relief to read a novel’.

Thus we join those who honour Jesus with our lips but we have distanced our hearts from him.

No Bible, no spirituality; God at arm’s length.

(Alec Motyer, Isaiah by the Day: A New Devotional Translation, p. 143)

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