“We Think Too Much!” (Isaiah 55:6-9)
The 16th Sunday After Pentecost (September 20, 2020)
Have you ever noticed that sometimes we can do things better, more efficiently, or even with less errors when we don’t think so much about what we are doing? Now, I’m not saying that our mind should not be engaged when we perform some task. Obviously that would lead to certain disaster. But I’m referring to the tendency we often have to over analyze things. For example, if we have done our diligence to train and practice thoroughly how to swing that golf club or that baseball bat, then it can often be to our detriment under the pressure of a real game to analyze our swing over an over again. All the extra thinking will tend to negate what our previous training had enabled us to do automatically. Instead of relaxing and letting our training take over, our analyzing will cause us to over correct... over compensate... under swing... or even lose sight of the ball. All our analyzing will do is to cause us to perform poorly.
The same tendency to think too much can even impede our ability to see the obvious. Many a joke or brain teaser counts on us over-analyzing the information given. Take for example the old scenario: An airliner full of 154 passengers crashes right on the border between the United States and Canada. Which country is responsible to clean up the wreckage and bury the survivors? The answer to puzzle is obvious. Do you see it? (Survivors better not be buried by anyone. They are still alive!)
What about in our relationships? We will spend hours trying to analyze the other person’s actions or lack of actions or what they say or don’t say in the hopes of trying to read their heart. 9 times out of 10, however, all our thinking leads us only to wrong conclusions. That’s because our analyzing of someone else is always influenced by our preconceived notions, or our personal fears, or our bitterness, or even our wishful thinking. Yes, we can think too much all to our detriment!
This can be especially true in our relationship with God. Three times in our text from Isaiah we hear a reference to human thinking. The first speaks of the thoughts of the evil man. The next two references contrast human thoughts with God’s thoughts. The primary emphasis of what is said is that too much thinking on our part can be more than a hindrance in our relationship with God but it can keep us from knowing God, from having true communion with God, and even cost us our eternal salvation. In other words, our human reason can be our worst enemy. Hence our text is a gracious call from God to forsake our thoughts and ways and to turn and embrace His thoughts and ways whether they make sense to us or not!
Clearly, to forsake our human reasoning is not an easy thing for any of us to do. After all, as humans we pride ourselves on our intellect and our ability to reason out solutions. We put a lot of faith and confidence in our scientific acumen and knowhow to develop the medicines we need to end all sickness and disease... to replenish our polluted environment... and to even control the forces of nature, so we won’t have to face such predicted ecological Armageddon’s as what is being forecast from Climate Change. In similar arrogance, we also think that one day we will hit upon the right reasoning to cause all peoples to live in peace with each other. In short we see our human reasoning as our savior; and shall we dare say it, even our god! Author Fred Brown wrote a short story about a super-computer that was asked the question, “Is there a God?” The computer replied, “There is now.”
It’s no wonder then that one of the most popular tele-evangelists is Joel Osteen. In various ways he continually encourages his listeners to listen to the divine voice within. He is right there with all the motivational speakers, like Oprah Winfrey, from whom is heard the constant mantra: “You will only be successful when you start trusting yourself.” I’m afraid, the final words of Ernest Henley’s 19th century poem “Invictus” is the swan song of our race: “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.” Who needs The Bible when your inner voice speaks truth and wisdom? Who needs Jesus if God is within you?
Human reason has reached its zenith of arrogance with the theory of evolution. I ask you, is it true intelligence to think that instead of us humans possessing the honor, integrity, and high value inherent as beings who are the pinnacle of God’s creation and created in His divine image, we are nothing more than accidents who just happened to have crawled out of some primordial sludge and whose lineage includes tadpoles and apes?
Human pride and its accompanying dependence upon its own reason have even distorted people’s concept of God and their salvation in Him. The god people create is often scarcely more than an enlarged image of themselves, possessing the virtues they admire and the faults they condone. This is idolatry. Human reason even imagines that since we can create God in our own image, we can also surmise that God will save us based on our intellectual capacity to imagine Him, or our feelings of love for Him, or the good works we invent to do for Him.
But we think too much! God says, “You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you...” (Ps. 50:21). For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways... As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Our faulty human reason is dead wrong. Human thoughts of God have been corrupted by sin since the fall. Already in Genesis, before the great flood, God observed that “every intent of the thoughts of (man’s) heart was only evil continually” (6:5). We rightly confess in our Lutheran Confessions that this corruption of our nature (original sin) “contains these diseases: ignorance of God, contempt for God, not having fear and trust in God, the inability to love God” (Apology, Art. II, Concordia The Lutheran Confessions; 2005, p. 104). Our reason cannot possibly fathom God’s thoughts. Human reason can lead us only to a place under God’s eternal wrath. In Proverbs we read, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (14:12).
Herman C. Theiss in his book Life with God (Auburn, Wash.; Seven Hills Publishers, 1988) wrote, “The creator of our reason cannot be the product of our reason. If we worship a god our mind has pieced together we are only worshiping ourselves. There must be a better way of formulating a religious creed than by beginning with the familiar words, ‘I think.’”
Indeed, there is a better way than arrogantly following our human reason. The way that leads to God and eternal salvation is the way of humbly tuning out our own thoughts and tuning in our minds, ears and hearts to the mind and heart of God. Accordingly, in our text we hear God say , “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
The real blessing for us is that God’s thoughts and ways center on His compassion for sinful human beings and His gracious willingness to forgive their sins. Arrogant, self-reliant, human beings, who think too much, do not have to end in death apart from God. Just as high as God’s ways are above man’s ways, so God’s Holy Writer assures us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:11,12).
By the same token, God has not waited for man, in his corrupt human reason, to find Him. Instead, out of His mercy God has drawn near to man with His compassion that He might be found. This compassion of God that human reason could never have imagined nor discovered for itself God has graciously revealed to the world of arrogant idolaters by sending His Word of grace to them through His holy prophets and apostles. By that same Word God brings sinners to repentance and faith in Him that they might know Him and in that Word find Him. Following our text the LORD says, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God drew near to a haughty and disobedient Israel by speaking His words of grace to them through His prophet Isaiah. But in these last days, God has spoken to us in His Son (Hebrews 1:2)… in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. The high and wonderful thoughts of God have been clearly made known to us in Him. He is the wisdom of God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for every sinner. In Jesus God’s heart of compassion is made visible to us sinners. Jesus willingly received in His own person on the cross the very stripes due arrogant idolaters like you and me. All who in sincere humility repent of their sin and look to the Son in faith have the forgiveness of their sins. They are the ones who are truly smart for they know God. They will have eternal life. Martin Luther once stated, “(God) does not want to be known as he is ‘in heaven,’ in his mere ‘almightiness’ ... but as the God in the manger or at his mother’s breasts, the God who suffered and died and rose again” (Gerhard O. Forde, Where God Meets Man; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1972, p. 28). Clearly, no human mind could ever have come up with this scheme of salvation! Indeed, “Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom” (Ps. 145:3)
This same Jesus, God in flesh, draws near to you and allows you to find Him in His Word and Holy Sacraments empowered by His Word. You don’t have to reason out for yourself who God is, what He is like, or what He thinks of you. You don’t have to imagine where you could meet Him. He has already declared that in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the Holy Supper of His Body and Blood He will meet with you … draw you to Him … make Himself known to you … commune with you … reveal His truth to you … impart His forgiveness to you and bring you life. You don’t have to think too much!
But there is another caveat of this text that those of us with the tendency to think too much must also hear. For we might imagine and contemplate that there will always be time to find God, so we can for the time being simply occupy ourselves with meeting with the world. But again, our human reason fails us. Procrastination is yet one more deadly outgrowth of our sin-corrupted reason. Isaiah proclaims, “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.” Just as ancient Israel found out for themselves that the time of God’s grace was not forever but that God eventually draws near with His wrath against the wicked, so we must understand that the day of grace will one day end. Death will come or the final judgment will be upon us. Then the opportunity to repent and receive Him who now comes in His Means of Grace will be lost. The door to God’s presence will be closed and there will only be time for wailing and gnashing of teeth among the procrastinators.
Today, God invites all of us in this world; the unbeliever, the agnostic, the person of another faith, the human philosopher, the sluggard, the doubter, and even the lapsing Christian to turn from his own ways and thoughts and find Him, who has drawn near and made it so He can be found in His Holy Word and Sacrament. Accordingly, the call goes out to us today from the Lord’s apostle, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation” ( 2 Cor. 6:2). God help us all to not think too much but just get with the program! Amen!