Seek the Lord while the Lord may be found; call on God while God is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn back to the Lord, who will have mercy on them, to our God, who will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9)
Many people imagine the God we meet in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, as an angry judge, unforgiving, ready to condemn people for the smallest infraction of his commands. They like to distinguish between this God and the God revealed by Jesus, a merciful Father who takes care of us and always shows his love and concern.
Anyone who takes the time to study and meditate on the Bible will discover that this opposition is false. The God who showed himself to the people of Israel is the very same God that Jesus bears witness to by his words and acts. At the center of God’s dealings with this people is the story of the Exodus. It is a story that tells how God entered into the life of a group of slaves, far from their home, liberated them from their oppression and brought them to a beautiful land where they could be free. This story reveals a God who listens to the cry of the poor, who wants people to live to the full, to be happy, a God who can always do something new to break the bonds that keep us captive. In short, it tells of a God of tenderness and mercy.
In this text, a prophet explains that this in fact is what makes God different from human beings. Human beings often respond to being rejected by others by rejecting in their turn. We find it extremely difficult to forgive those who have hurt us deeply. But according to the prophet, God’s ways and thoughts are not like ours. If a person recognizes his or her mistakes and turns back to God, God will always welcome that person. Our relationship with God can always begin anew. This is what we call forgiveness.
God can act in this way because his behavior is not determined, or even conditioned, by the actions of his partner. As the Source of life, God can always find within himself the energy of love in order to respond to evil with good. The Christian teachers of the first centuries understood this, but they expressed it by a difficult term, one easy to misunderstand. They said that God is impassible.
If this word meant that God were indifferent to human pain, unconcerned with the struggles and suffering of creation, then of course it would not describe the God we meet in the Bible. It would be a great blasphemy. Instead, this curious term attempts to express how God is above human ways of thinking and acting. It is a way of saying that nothing we do can ever cause God to love us less. Unlike us, who are so often affected by the response of others, who can see our good intentions melt away when other people reject our advances, God is always faithful to who he is. God is and will always be a God of mercy. God will always keep on loving, even when people respond to his love with indifference or rejection. As Brother Roger used to say, “All God can do is love.”
This faithfulness of God to his identity is a source of great comfort. It means there exists a Rock to which we can always cling for support. In a world where everything seems unstable, where we are so often unsure where to find happiness and meaning, there is Someone we can always turn to and know that we will be welcomed with joy. Like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11ff), who runs out of the house to embrace his son who has wasted all his inheritance. The father’s attitude does not change because of his son’s foolishness; all the father sees is his beloved child “who was dead and has come back to life.”
Where do we meet this God of unchanging mercy? Jesus tells us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Jesus reveals to us in all fullness the God who never tires of doing good, who always makes possible a new beginning for those who come to him.
What changes in my life when I realize that God will always welcome me with love and joy?
What would it mean concretely for me to “seek” or to “call on” God; where and how do I find him?