Few things can be more upsetting to a child than acknowledging that his or her parent is not all-powerful and not all-knowing. If something is awry in the parent’s life, it is not unusual for the child to blame him- or herself, then, rather than risk the parent seeming fallible and the child’s world falling apart.
In today’s text from Isaiah 10, Assyria is threatening the surrounding nations, including Israel. Isaiah – like the child who does not want to risk the parents’ fallibility and the world falling apart – ascribes Assyria’s belligerence to God, saying that Assyria is “my rod in anger” and that “the club in their hands is my fury.” It may be unsettling to think of God using a violent nation to serve God’s purposes, but in ascribing Assyria’s belligerence to God, Isaiah preserves God’s omnipotence and omniscience, Isaiah preserves the order of the world.
In this evening’s gospel reading, Jesus says, “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” Here is an image of God that is intimate – the Son and the Father are so close that no one knows the one except the other. And Jesus invites us into this relationship – “No one knows the Father except the Son, and anyone whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
Jesus’ image of God may seem to contradict but actually complements Isaiah’s, for neither image is complete without the other; both are needed for a fuller understanding of God. It helps to be able – like Isaiah – to see God present where there is violence. (To do so helps to preserve the world!) We might not – like Isaiah – say that God condones the violence or is behind the violence, but if we are able to see God present even where there is violence, it offers us hope that the world will hold and that God is at work to redeem the violence.
Knowing that the relationship into which God invites us is a relationship of intimate love, we are better able to face the challenges of this world and hopefully be an instrument of God’s love to others. Combined with a capacity to see God present everywhere – even where there is violence – God’s love enables life to become an extraordinary gift to be savored, that can find joy even in the most trying of circumstances. And our fallen world – marred by violence, craving joy – wants nothing more than to hear of God’s love, than to share God’s joy.
May we let these two texts, these two images of God, work in us, that we might help hold this world together in God’s hands, that we might more fully be agents of God’s love.