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Gilbert: the strange comfort of Isaiah

January 3, 2021
Detail of Gustave Doré’s The Prophet Isaiah

By the rivers of Babylon
there we sat weeping
when we remembered Zion.
On the poplars in its midst
we hung up our harps
For there our captors asked us
for the words of a song;
Our tormentors, for joy:
“Sing for us a song of Zion!”
But how could we sing a song of the LORD
in a foreign land?

Psalm 137:1-4

Is this our exile? How can it not be?

The most taught harp cannot hit these notes of wayward angst. So we hang ours on the poplars by the river and weep.

Christendom is as distant as Zion was to Israel during the Babylonian exile.

“Sing us a Christmas song,” our captives chide while our Nativity scenes are made unrecognizable.

A zealous mob of Patriarchal iconoclasts rage around history’s public square, tearing down statues of holy patrons and heralding the epiphany of the Janus god of Inclusion and Diversity, hoisting Great Accusation against all that came before (insofar as it was European and Christian).

Worse yet, so many of the Europeans side with our captors by being the most willing to enshrine the strange god within church walls.

Christians are forlorn and, while the sheep are scattered, we hear the loud, vain, inescapable din of shepherds singing canticles to the world.

As for the shepherds, does Isaiah’s old shoe fit today?

All the sentinels of Israel are blind,
they are without knowledge;
They are all mute dogs, unable to bark;
Dreaming, reclining,
loving their sleep.
Yes, the dogs have a ravenous appetite;
they never know satiety,
Shepherds who have no understanding;
all have turned their own way,
each one covetous for gain:

“Come, let me bring wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink,
And tomorrow will be like today,
or even greater.”

Isaiah 57:10-12

Indeed, the promise of tomorrow is the most intoxicating brew, causing the most souls to join in the world’s tantric dance under the guise of perpetuity (Wis 2:6-8).

The spirit of this age is that of an anti-age, an age that makes the bald claim, “I, I alone, am unlike the ages past,” at a time when everything at least seems to be either too old to apply or to new to be tested. Certainly, plenty of souls are eager to do battle with Global Communism, but no moral leader will bear the banner.

Today, we learn again what exile means. But, at the same time, we learn again what home means. If God’s promises appear have passed their warranty, Isaiah will return us to God.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; But with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer.  
–Isaiah 54:7-8  

These striking verses speak of a moment in which Israel finds herself completely abandoned, with a sense of self-doubt that amplified by her surroundings and inability to escape.

Our harsh, pagan captors, these New Babylonians, have sovereignty over us because of the reckless wanderings of our passions. So we sit quietly through their seasonal rituals to the stars and hear their vain musings about creation with the increased horror of knowing that Christ already came into the world to be the light of the nations (Is 60:1-3) but they don’t want to see it. What future is there for us among a people who only speak of Christ in the past-tense?

Still, Isaiah’s encouragement continues:

O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled, I lay your pavements in carnelians, your foundations in sapphires; I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of jewels, and all your walls of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the LORD; great shall be the peace of your children. In justice shall you be established, far from oppression, you shall not fear, from destruction, it cannot come near.

Isaiah 54:11-14

During the exile, in the days of Isaiah, the Temple of Jerusalem was under siege by the King of Assyria (701 BC). But here, Isaiah was telling them that not only would the temple be rebuilt, but God would lay the foundations with precious jewels. Even more astonishing, the children, their lineage, their future, the very incarnation of their hopes, would be fostered by God Himself. It must have sounded like the most asinine flight of fancy; impossible to imagine for sheer despair. To the weary Israelites, Isaiah might as well have been Orwell’s Moses the Crow cawing on about Sugarcandy Mountain.

Today, our most acute pain is for our children. Yes, we’ve all seen terrible things under these bleak Marxist clouds, but the worst has been the annihilation of the children by the means abortion and destruction of natural identities of boy and girl. Is there a clearer sign of creeping Satanism than these depraved ideological attacks on children? As for the brazenness of them, Candidate-elect of New Babylon, Joe Biden, speaking at a canned town hall before a plague-weary nation, all but pledged his support for the continued destruction of the natural identities of children as young as eight to honor the god of Inclusion/Diversity. It’s absolutely terrifying!

But here too, yes, even here, Isaiah speaks to us. While the methods have changed with time, the monstrous practice of child-sacrifice was also a sad fact among the princes of Babylon. God addressed them thusly:

You who burn with lust among the oaks, under every green tree;
You who immolate children in the wadies, among the clefts of the rocks
Among the smooth stones of the wadi is your portion, they, they are your allotment;
Indeed, you poured out a drink offering to them, and brought up grain offerings.
With these things, should I be appeased?

Isaiah 57:5-6

And this is the strangest comfort we can find in Isaiah; that of justice. Because a man who is awake in the middle of this night is losing sleep not for himself, but for his children who have been born amid the darkness.

Yes, we long for justice in a way that earlier generations could not have comprehended. Those who railed against rules in the name of wanton liberty have reaped for the present a confused whirlwind. But the justice to come, born in the long shadows of the Age of Mercy, grants to us poor, banished children of the Sexual Revolution the mercy of having again reasonable hope for our children.

God expresses for us His unfathomable mercy with an image of the most-loving mother, like Mary, as she is the one who, by nature, can best understand us.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.

Isaiah 49:15

But, God says, with perfect foresight of our unnatural present, even if that mother forgets, I will never forget you–a striking contrast with the present when so many mothers have not only apparently forgotten their children, but celebrate with jubilant cries in the streets their forgottenness.

Now, when we cannot even draw comfort from nature itself, God comforts us through this old prophet. He assures us in this verse; He cannot forget. And in the very next verse, He gives us proof: the wounds that His hands will bear forever, even in His glorified body, that loving remembrance of us.

See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved you; your walls are ever before me.

Isaiah 49:16

Ages later, Isaiah stirs in our troubled hearts same comfort of being remembered. The oh-so-heavy toll the world is taking on us, down to the dregs of our identities as Christians, rendering us unrecognizable to ourselves (Ps 22:6), has not rendered us beyond God’s care.

The bird that symbolizes the hope and renewed identity for poor, exiled Israel is a strong one, and certainly one we can identify with:

They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.

Isaiah 40:31

Could it be that Isaiah’s image of flying on eagles wings is more suitable to us, the exiles of New Babylon? The seal of American strength; the eagle, is the also ambassador of regeneration for Babylon’s Israel. It is described as soaring with hope.

America’s optimism and imagination, our most potent virtues, can be renewed again with renewed hope in the Lord. He will remember us.