Life in Context

IMG_3026“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” Isaiah 2:22.

God spoke very strongly through His prophets and it still resonates, but you have to read these kind of verses in context. Context is everything.

I believe in context, after all I taught literature for 20 years. Whether it was Kate Chopin or Dostoevsky, context was vital to the interpretation of literature. The “who, what, where, when, why, and how” was key to understanding authorial purpose. If I didn’t understand 19th century Russian culture, how would I make sense of Crime and Punishment? And what about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening? How would I grapple with Edna Pontellier’s decision to walk into the ocean, leaving behind a domineering husband and sons destined to become like their father if I didn’t understand Chopin’s social commentary on women’s roles in late 19th century America? Context.

Context adds depth of understanding to any piece of literature. The same is true for God’s Word. The Bible even as literature must be read “in context.” It’s one book with one purpose: Jesus Christ. The Son of God who was and is and continues to be– eternal. It is the story of redemption. God created (the Trinity was in on this whole thing from beginning to end) us and had a plan to redeem us because we are a rebellious people prone to creating our own gods and trying to save ourselves. We are messy creations. We need redeeming. And we are part of the story…we are part of God’s context. He includes us in His story.

Back to the verse in Isaiah 2.Here’s some context:

The Bible is largely a Jewish book. Sure, we “Gentiles” are grafted into God’s people by way of Jesus, but the Jews were called out to be God’s chosen people via Abraham. (see Genesis 12).

By 740 BC, the Jews were a pretty secular people. Throughout the reign of various ungodly kings and the division of Israel into two nations, they began to adopt the habits and culture of the surrounding nations. They started to act like them. Walk like them, talk like them, dress like them, intermarry with them, and worship like them. Oy to the Vey!

Isaiah begins this chapter warning the Jewish folks about what is coming. (Check out the book of Revelation to fully grasp God’s plan for His chosen people—the correlation with Isaiah is amazing.) Isaiah talks about the New Jerusalem and how amazing it will be and how God will dwell once again with His people. By verse 5, Isaiah is begging the Jews to “…walk in the light of the LORD.”

But then, wham! Verse 6 starts the condemnation and warning. We don’t like the judgmental aspects of God (even though He is perfect Justice), and the Jews weren’t too thrilled about it either. They didn’t like the warnings. They didn’t like being told what to do or being condemned by God for living like the nations who didn’t worship the one, true God. We don’t like it in 2016 either.

Isaiah ripped into them pretty harshly: “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” Isaiah 2:11. 

Arrogance. In the Hebrew, Isaiah is using two words: gabhuth and ruwm. Both mean “loftiness; haughtiness; pride; elevation; elation of the mind.” It’s the kind of arrogance that suggests that we know better than God. We lift up ourselves—and even others—as our source of salvation. WE become the context that God should fit into rather than vice versa. 

Example: I hate not being in control. I want to obliterate the suffering of anyone I love. I want to help the people in Syria who are starving or watching the children starve. I must find a part-time job that is fulfilling and purposeful. I can change my life story.It’s MY context and I’ll write it. I want…I must…I can. All lies.

Very little is within my control, but when I lift myself up to the place of self-sufficiency, I’ve put myself up equal to God.

A bit of hyperbolic fun: Let’s say I made myself a wee “Cindy Idol.” Curly blonde and white hair. Little round tummy. Old grey Converse tennis. I sit her on top of my bookshelf, so that I can worship her a little whenever I walk by. The problem? She has yet to ever fix anything. She hasn’t yet spoken a word to intervene in my life as a positive life force. She doesn’t bring me peace when I chant to her or practice my own version of yoga in honor of her. She doesn’t provide me with enough strength to move my body when my joints ache and crack. She hasn’t provided me with a job yet. And I’m diligent in my worship. Really. I dust her and move her around with me—sometimes in the car when I’m heading to town.

My “Cindy Idol” hasn’t spoken a world into being or created an ocean or delicate flowers or intricate life. She is powerless in the face of my struggles. Worthless. She cannot save me.

“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

 Sometimes we lift up others as gods. We don’t do it knowingly—that would be silly. But we do. We make them fit into our own context.

Example: I hate politics. I listen and read and consume media in a variety of forms and try to form intelligent positions based on the evidence. The world is a rather terrifying place, and politicians want to assure us that they can save us.

They can conquer ISIS, build giant walls to seal out undesirables who might destroy our economy, create new jobs, generate even more affordable healthcare, provide tuition-free state universities, save unborn babies or allow women to kill unwanted babies without guilt, protect us by letting everyone have an assault weapon if they want one…

Wow. In the context of American politics, one man or one woman is in the position to save us from everything that might prevent us from attaining the American Dream.

I have to admit that at times I am disgusted and frightened for this country. Has it come to this? Have we moved so far away from God that we lack any kind of moral compass that directs our leaders to do what is right and good?

When I get concerned and frightened, lashing out at the television screen, I have let a politician slip into a god position. I’ve made a “Hilary Idol” or a “Marco Idol” or a “Cruz Idol” or a “Bernie Idol” or God help us, a “Donald Idol.”

“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

I’m definitely not saying to quit voting or pushing politicians to serve they way they are supposed to serve. But I am saying stop being ridiculous idolaters. Man cannot save us. As Christians, we have a duty to elect leaders who will best serve the good of the people. All of the people. And if we want to throw our Christianity around as a cheap voting block, then at least choose someone that represents Christ-like qualities. Only God knows the state of their soul, but actions do represent internal qualities and values. Actions represent our context.

Into what context do we fall? Are we writing God into the context of our lives–claiming his healing and wealth and power as if we can manipulate him into performing as we want him to? OR are we letting God write us into the context of His story?

Ultimately we must put our faith where our mouths are. Speak truth. Speak love. Speak from a humble spirit and a merciful heart. But speak firmly and with boldness declaring that our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Hope isn’t built on my abilities or a politician’s abilities; it is built on the truth of God’s character and Christ’s actions.

We have to put our lives in the context of God’s story. We have to see the world through a God filter. We have to trust and relax in the Truth.

Consider this poem by Wendell Berry”

“We Who Prayed and Wept”

We who prayed and wept

for liberty from kings

and the yoke of liberty

accept the tyranny of things

we do not need.

In plenitude too free,

we have become adept

beneath the yoke of greed.


Those who will not learn

in plenty to keep their place

must learn it by their need

when they have had their way

and the fields spurn their seed.

We have failed Thy grace.

Lord, I flinch and pray,

Send Thy necessity.