The Timelessness of God’s Newness

February 19, 2012

Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not;

See I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers…. The people I formed for myself that they might announce my praise. Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob, for you grew weary of me O Israel. … You burdened me with your sins, and wearied me with your crimes.

It is I, I, who wipe out, for my own sake, your offenses; your sins I remember no more.

Today, if you happened to find yourself sitting in a Catholic church, you heard this reading from Isaiah (Is 43:18-25 with some omissions). In it the writer, in the person of God writes, “See, I am doing something new!”

What this particular part of Isaiah speaks in poetic fashion is of Israel’s return from exile in Babylon. This was written about 2,500 years ago. This is old to say the least. What we are meant to hear in this part of Isaiah is that the audience did not have to always look at the memory of Israel’s flight from Egypt known as the Exodus. To see God’s power at work one only need to look at this present moment in which God has restored Israelite liberty. The people of Israel read and heard the scriptures constantly. Every year they celebrated the feast of Passover in which they remember how God delivered them from Egypt. But now, as the deutero-Isaian writer writes, God has acted once again delivering his people from their plight and formed them to be His people once again.

Today we heard the same passage that the Hebrews heard and read over 2,500 years ago and, by it, compelled to recall events of their ancestral history of about 800 years before that! Realizing that simple fact, we have to ask whether the people of Israel at the time were just as starved to see God’s mercy and movement as we are today?

It has been close to 2,000 years since the time of Jesus final moments on Earth–from the last time He walked, talked, breathed and died as the rest of us do. I imagine that many people of our time would say if God truly exists we are due for another Exodus, we are due that promise of salvation from 2,000 years ago. God needs to prove to us once again that God exists and is as good as everyone else says God is. I speak of the widespread sentiment of the 20th-century enduring today that if God truly is alive why does God not behave as God has done as we read in the Hebrew scriptures. I have to interject that there is a certain blindness that comes with this sentiment; namely, who says God isn’t behaving as God has in the past? Yet, in the same breath I also ask is God not allowed to do something new?

I mentioned in my last post that God is a God of silence. As Isaiah’s reading indicates, God’s silence was unnerving even to the Hebrew people. They had heard God had done all of these wondrous deeds for their ancestors. Where was God for them now? They were living off of the promise of a good meal as they say. The writer of Isaiah had to remind his audience (hence the writing at all) that this is God’s work what is happening right now. The same message applies for us today. God wants us to see at this very moment the work of grace as inconspicuous as it may be.

It is not difficult to see that we are living in times of great suffering and injustice. Without going into all of the details, we live in time where true art is scarce, education is wanting, wage imbalances are quite gross and even murder is poorly defined and at question as a legitimate practice. Truly this is a veritable wasteland. But God challenges us to see that God is doing something new. The problems I mentioned are not new. They’ve been around even when we perceived the economy to be “good.” It may be audacious to say, but maybe God has made us to realize that the economy we had been living in was simply a mirage and that what we experience now is what our society has always been–a wasteland. If we perceived that everything is good would we ask God to change things? I think not. Just as black ink is best visible on white paper, we needed to see our own decadence before we can see God’s healing and restoration. This vision then is the first step of God’s restoration of our true lives, not defined merely as Americans or immigrant, men or women, rich or poor, sick or healthy, old or young, etc. but as God’s people.

God asked the israelites, “do you not perceive it?” Human beings tend to be quite dense when we get wrapped up in our own designs. I am fully confident that God will move humanity from it’s current plight and it will surely be God’s initiative, but here is what will happen among us. The arrogant and proud-hearted will say it was done by their own power and efficacy, and the weak-minded will believe them. And the same arrogant and proud-hearted people will say, “God did nothing, once again God is nowhere to be found.”  The weak-minded will agree. This is how the relationship between God and man’s faithless has been throughout all of man’s history; it is just as technology develops that humanity has new mediums for wrongly thinking that God’s movements and designs are nonexistent. Will that stop God from doing it? No, that is the character of God’s generosity. Those who say God is not alive and efficacious in our time is simply flat-out contradicting the facts of various events happening around the world and refusing to see it any other way. Just as the spring at Lourdes has been ignored by the multitudes of faithless, and while it is too soon to speak of, the miracles of Medjugorje occurring now will also be ignored by many, God will continue to save and serve this wasteland of our souls.  All this God will do for the sake of those who do dare to see what God’s love looks like and dare to be what God is making of them.

So what are we left with? We are commanded simply to “see.” To see what it is that God is doing right at this moment. That has always been the meaning of the spiritual life. Seeing is not done simply with our eyes, but with the powers of distinction given by God through our mind. To see past appearances and the prima facie into the currents of goodness and charity springing up in our time. To see is to contemplate–to see things as they really are which is synonymous to seeing the deeper reality of things. When we peer into the deepest part of the world around us and of ourselves in search of God’s activity, what will we see?

I asked the two questions earlier: whether God acts as he has done in the past and whether God is doing something new. They both receive the same answer. God is doing now what God has always done–something new.

“The One who sat on the throne said, ‘behold, I make all things new.'” Rev 21:5

2 Responses to “The Timelessness of God’s Newness”

  1. Anonymous said

    Jeremy, I don’t like popcorn.

  2. jjmallett said

    The particularity of the Eucharist did not fit into the generality of this blog post/essay but it is worth noting that the Eucharist stands as the pinnacle of God’s timeless newness. In it Jesus asks that we eat and drink of His body and blood “in remembrance [of Him].” And the sacramental reality of the Eucharist is that it is a re-presenting (making present what was past) of the same metaphysical reality of the last supper–both time and being are made the same as the night before his death. This NEW covenant in His blood is not old but a continually refashioned relationship between us and God. In it the newness we see is ourselves transformed ever more into the very likeness of Christ.

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