Chaos and Desolation
Isaiah’s vision looked far, far into the future, really to the end of the world. The Day of the Lord would come to unburden the earth of its groaning, to liberate the entire cosmos from sin’s terrible corruption and the tyranny of death. But the Lord’s deliverance would be severe mercy in the storm of God’s wrath, destroying all that is wrong, and leaving only what is good, pure, and right.
As Isaiah described the vision unfolded before him, he wrote of the drying up of all joy, the emptying of those things that used to bring cheer.
The wine dries up;Isaiah 24:7-9 (NRSV)
the vine languishes;
all the merry-hearted sigh.
The mirth of the timbrels is stilled;
the noise of the jubilant has ceased;
the mirth of the lyre is stilled.
No longer do they drink wine with singing;
strong drink is bitter to those who drink it.
The scene is of people all over the world who had, up until this moment, found ways to carry on, to find at least what felt like happiness in gatherings, drink, merry-making. But it all comes tumbling down in ruins, very like the Tower of Babel.
According to Isaiah, there will come a point when God deals with all sin.
Sin, the Continuing Struggle
Even for the person who has been born anew from above, who has received God’s Holy Spirit to live permanently within, still struggles with sin. Believers find they have two conflicting sets of inclinations, the nature of God’s Spirit, and the original-yet-warped-and-therefore-sinful nature. Sometimes we cooperate with God’s nature within us, and other times we give in to our old nature.
The apostle Paul famously wrote of this struggle.
For we know that the law is spiritual,
but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.
For I know that the good does not dwell within me, that is, in my flesh.
For the desire to do the good lies close at hand, but not the ability.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that, when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand.
For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, BUT I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am enslaved to the law of God, but with my flesh I am enslaved to the law of sin.Romans 7:14-25 (NRSV)
And the apostle John, writing to his beloved and faithful brothers and sisters, agreed with Paul’s assessment, though he put it much more bluntly.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.1 John 1:8 (NRSV)
Even as new creations, it seems there is something sticky about the nature of sin, and we still have to deal with it in our lives. We need continuing cleansing from sin. We find ourselves needing to repent, again and again, once more putting off the old and putting on the new.
I have heard it said that spiritual maturity is a deepening awareness that leads us ever more into repentance, so that the truly mature person is constantly repenting, rather than so self-satisfied they think they are beyond the sin problem, finally.
Jesus talked about the basics of our condition.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him.
“Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”Jesus, John 3:17-18 (NRSV)
Sin, the Stark Reality
John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses in the Bible. Interestingly, the two verses that come after it are not quoted even remotely as often. And especially when Jesus says, essentially, that sin has already subjected all humanity to the wrath of God—the “condemnation” of God.
Regardless of what we believe about hell, or what happens in eternity, we know that all people eventually will die, physically. God had warned the first man and woman that sin would bring death, and it did, along with a curse that would burden the whole earth, as Isaiah had written,
Therefore a curse devours the earth,Isaiah 24:6 (NRSV)
and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt.
Moses warned in Deuteronomy that if even one person secretly entertained even one sinful thought, that thought would infect the entire nation. He described in great detail the effects of that infection, a curse to the people and even to the very land itself.
The apostle Paul described the earth as groaning under that curse, longing for the day when Jesus would come to restore it. One of the ways God’s wrath works is by allowing a person to suffer under their own sin, and to see the effects of their sin all around them. By not holding back the consequences, but allowing sin to reach its fullness, God makes it possible for us to be convicted.
For centuries humankind has polluted the world by disobeying God’s laws and violating God’s statutes. Human greed has contaminated the soil, water, and atmosphere of earth and exploited the whole planet of its God-given treasures. Non-renewable resources are disappearing fast, garbage piling up, and yet we, humankind, do not change our ways.
Sin has real consequences in nature as well as in human character and conscience.
Death came eventually to the first man and woman, and all people since have had no choice but to be subsumed by death.
Why would we think that the earth would fare any better, loaded down with the curse of sin?
Isaiah’s Vision of Severe Cleansing
It was a matter of time before the wrath of God, that spiritual law of sin, would bring death and destruction to everything corrupted by sin—sin’s lies, pollution, and death cleansed away by the scouring lye of God’s wrath. And so, the prophet continued,
The city of chaos is broken down;Isaiah 24:10 (NRSV)
every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
The Hebrew word translated “broken down,” or “ruined,” is “tohu,” the word used in Genesis to describe the earth before God began to form it. The earth without form and void―emptiness and chaos, thus prepared for a new creative act by God.
Everything polluted by sin will be desolated by God’s judgment
- Houses abandoned.
- People shut up in their houses terrified as society breaks down, scared to let anyone in.
- A time of darkness, chaos, ruin, economic collapse, moral collapse, political collapse.
There is an outcry in the streets for lack of wine;Isaiah 24:10-13 (NRSV)
all joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city;
the gates are battered into ruins.
For thus it shall be on the earth
and among the nations,
as when an olive tree is beaten,
as at the gleaning when the grape harvest is ended.