Tumbling in the Sand
“Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”-Isaiah 58:6-7
There are so many different varieties of Christianity out there. Not only are there all of the main denominations, but then there are all sorts of smaller groups or just individuals who claim some special aspect or knowledge of the Christian faith. And then there are all the experts out there: the ones who have TV shows or just preach on a street corner or write books… How is one supposed to know which ones are right? How is someone who is trying to be faithful supposed to be able to discern the living truth of God from all sorts of competing truths claiming to be from God?
I can hardly claim to have the definitive answer to this question (especially since I think that God’s truth is not simple or simplistic enough to be captured by one person, group, or ideology), but I think that part of the answer, at least, is found in these words from Isaiah. In this passage, God is speaking to God’s people and God is upset. God’s people are all about keeping themselves holy and pure by observing the letter of the law, the legal requirements of their religion, while ignoring and even hurting those around them. God does not find this kind of rule-keeping to be holy or good. Rather, what God most wishes is for God’s people to reach out to the needy, to free those in prison, to clothe the naked, to work for justice, to restore community. God declares through the prophet that this is what true faith leads to: a whole and just community, healing for all, and right relationship with all (including God).
If I were to take this passage, then, and apply it to the question of how one is to determine if what one hears from those around them in true or not, I would ask: Does this understanding of God lead me to care only (or even primarily) about my own salvation, or does it lead me to care about the healing (“salve”-ation) of my neighbor and my whole community? Does this understanding of faith lead me to reach out in healing to the hurting world or to retreat from it as if it could hurt me? Does this understanding of spirituality lead me away from community (to tend only to my own spiritual interests) or does it lead me into community to struggle with my and others’ faith and faults so that we may grow together?
Is this not the fast that God has chosen for God’s very self: to reach out to all so that all may have life?