The scholars who added headings into Biblical texts didn't mince words for Isaiah I: A Rebellious Nation. Yep.
What does the rebellious nation of Isaiah I look like? It's been through a lot lately. The metaphor used in verse 5 is someone who's been beaten up, culminating with a head injury. Something is wrong with the heart, and there are physical problems from the feet to the head. "No soundness" is the NIV translation. Wounds that remain uncleansed and unbandaged.
Reminds me of 2020.
In the midst of this brutal description, one learns that the injuries continue due to self-choice. That is, the pain can be stopped at any point! "Why should you be beaten anymore?", asks Isaiah. The root problem is a spiritual one. The people have "turned their backs" on God.
A vague diagnosis does us no good, however. We've been there before as a nation. In Jemar Tisby's 2019 book, "The Color of Compromise," reference is made to the Southern United State's Lost Cause mythology. Tisby cites the book "Baptized in Blood" (Charles Reagan Wilson), which describes this mythology as saying that the Civil War was God's chastisement of the South for turning their backs on the Lord. How did they turn their backs? Well, the answer startlingly does not include "enslaving people" as one of the essential problems, and so the prescription did not involve abolition of slavery or support in any way of previously enslaved persons. And, so, here we are, entering 2021 with the sins of the past still with us.
And so, will a vague, "let's do better," be enough to get us out of this quagmire? If we choose vague spiritual tropes as the solution, the Scriptures aren't to blame. We need only go a little further in Isaiah I to see God's specific diagnosis...one that results in his describing Judah (good, religious Judah) as Sodom and Gomorrah, with this shared connection:
"Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."
That's it. Not, pray more or go to church more. These things are important, crucial, even, for growth as a person of faith in community with others. But, in the preceding verses, going to church (i.e. temple sacrifice in 8th century BC) while engaging in injustice or failing to stop injustice results in God saying,
"Quit your worship charades. I can't stand your trivial religious games. Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings—meetings, meetings, meetings—I can’t stand one more!...I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening. And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody. Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings" (The Message translation).
What do you think? Is this a message the church in the United States needs to hear in 2021?