Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Monday, March 21, 2016

An Annoying but Beautiful Passage: Isaiah 55:8-9 ("My Ways Are Higher...") and Its Link to Continuing Revelation

Isaiah 55:8-9 may be one of the most annoying passages in scripture. Not because it isn’t true and beautifully expressed, but because of how it has been abused for centuries. Thousands of people have had serious questions about some of the most fundamental issues of their faith. Questions like, “If God and Christ are the same being, why does Christ pray to the Father? Why does he say 'my Father is greater than I'? Why does he say “not my will but thine be done?” In response, they may be told that it’s a mystery, it’s not supposed to make sense, and is something we cannot even hope to understand because God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, so please quit asking such things.

Isaiah 55:8-9 has been used to shut down inquiry and to stop seekers from seeking answers. The abuse of this scripture is rooted in the false, man-made notion that revelation has ceased, that everything we need to know has been revealed and there are no more revealed answers to be obtained. So please stop seeking.

How grateful I am for the Restoration that reminds us of the ancient, biblical truth that God does speak through his prophets and apostles, and that there are more prophets and more words of God to come (e.g., Matthew 23:34 “behold, I send unto you prophets, … and some of them ye shall kill and crucify”; Rev. 11:3-12, speaking of two future prophets in Jerusalem; Amos 3:7; Joel 2:28-29; etc.). How grateful I am for Isaiah, the great prophet and poet who understood that the living God does not wish to seal the heavens but invites us to seek, to learn, and to feast upon the knowledge that He wishes to share and reveal.

Let’s consider Isaiah 55:8-9 in its context.

Isaiah begins with an invitation to drink deeply and feast, not to starve. The Lord is offering abundance:
1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.
This feast comes by listening to what the Lord will speak and by participating in his covenant:

3 Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David….
We are commanded to seek the Lord, which is to seek more, and not to be satisfied with where we are and what we have already:
6 Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
This abundance of guidance and revelation for those who seek requires that we draw close to the Lord and repent of our sins:
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
We need to repent that we might receive His words and revelation, because:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.

9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Through seeking his ways, his thoughts, his words, and his revelations, we will receive the life giving waters he offers and experience the spiritual abundance He promises and the joy that God's word and guidance can bring:
10 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater:

11 So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

12 For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
An excellent companion passage is Jacob 4, verses 8 and 10, from the Book of Mormon:

8 Behold, great and marvelous are the works of the Lord. How unsearchable are the depths of the mysteries of him; and it is impossible that man should find out all his ways. And no man knoweth of his ways save it be revealed unto him; wherefore, brethren, despise not the revelations of God....

10 Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works. 

There are mysteries that are impossible for us to learn and understand--on our own. The Lord's response is not to say, "so quit asking," but rather to explain that the only way to get knowledge of those mysteries is through revelation. We are thus to treasure revelation, not to despise it. That includes revelation already given in the scriptures, personal revelation given to individuals, and revelation given to the Lord's servants, the prophets and apostles.

We should cherish revelation and ever seek to understand more. There are mysteries, but the Lord wants us not to give up and assume His higher ways are unknowable, but to come to Him and drink deeply of the wells of wisdom He offers. He pleads with us to accept His revelations so that we can learn from Him and see things as they are. He wants us to seek, not to shut down inquiry. Humbling welcoming and feasting on continuing revelation from the Lord is ultimately at the heart of Isaiah's message in Isaiah 55.


Anonymous said...

So exactly which revelation are we to treasure and which are we to despise? We obviously can't treasure all revelation can we? What about Muhammad's? The Pope's? Mary Baker Eddy? Jim Jones? Every one of them had a revelation. Why should I treasure the revelation of Joseph Smith and not Muhammad? Or The Buddha? They've all made claims of being spoken from the mouth of God. How am I supposed to decipher one revelation from another?

You said the answer is to not "quit asking" and you're absolutely right. So I will continue asking, why should I trust Muhammad, the Pope, Joseph Smith or anyone with a new revelation?

Jeff Lindsay said...

The Book of Mormon provides valuable evidence that Joseph was a real prophet, along with the witnesses. Have you given it a chance?

How would you answer your question concerning the new scripture in the New Testament, if you originally only has the Old Testament?

Anonymous said...

"Have you given it a chance?" Yes, unfortunately there are too many questions that well meaning Mormons have asked me to "quit asking".

"How would you answer your question concerning the new scripture in the New Testament, if you originally only has the Old Testament?" I believe the miracles and wonders Jesus performed during His earthy ministry give credence to the NT as the Word of God. The NT scriptures were written too close to the events of Christ to be deemed as myth (such as exists in with Mohamed). The historical and archaeological evidence of the NT testifies that these were actual places and people (which unfortunately does not exist in the BOM). The prophetic passages of the OT pointing to Christ as the Messiah testifies to the authority of the NT. The thousands upon thousands of ancient NT documents corroborate a unified message of Christ being who he said he was.

To believe Joseph Smith was a true prophet, one must accept (at a minimum) the revelation of ONE man of questionable character(Smith) that: 1. a total and complete apostasy occurred soon after the last apostle died, 2. from that time there was not a single righteous man on earth until Smith's arrival, 3.all ancient NT writings are corrupt, 4.the gospel of the Bible is corrupt with Smith as the only authorized restorer, 5. LDS rituals and ordinances found nowhere in the old or new testament are now introduced as essential to salvation.

Pierce said...

Anonymous, do you mind if I address a couple of things that you said must be accepted?

1. "a total and complete apostasy occurred soon after the last apostle died." At several points, apostles replaced other fallen apostles. Their words and letters carried so much authority that all Christians consider them scripture. Yet the Bible ends, so there must be something to this. Many of the NT apostles foretold this happening. But "total and complete" may be a bit extreme--obviously Christianity survived, expanded, and eventually flourished to the extent that we have benefited and continue to benefit from it. Apostasy and Restoration deals mainly with priesthood authority and revelation.

2. "from that time there was not a single righteous man on earth until Smith's arrival." This has never been the claim of the Church nor was it a teaching of Joseph Smith. There are many righteous people even in the midst of an apostasy, and God will bless and reward them based on their light and knowledge.

3. "all ancient NT writings are corrupt." Again, not a claim made in the Church or by Joseph Smith. We use the King James New Testament as the source for our understanding of Christ's ministry in Jerusalem. But cursory Bible scholarship would be enough to dispel any notion of bible inerrancy, to which we don't subscribe.

4."the gospel of the Bible is corrupt with Smith as the only authorized restorer" Everyone seems to have their own version of the Bible's teachings; such as the characteristics of God, the purpose of our creation, and how to obtain salvation. It makes sense to me that God wouldn't be behind all of these different doctrines, but that He would use the traditional model of using an authorized prophet to clarify.

5. "LDS rituals and ordinances found nowhere in the old or new testament are now introduced as essential to salvation." Covenants have always existed in one form or another, and our rituals and ordinances are simply the delivery systems for these covenants (which delivery methods are fluid). If your belief system does not include covenant-making as performed by one with authority, similar to what we saw in the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, then that belief system is different than the ones practiced anciently.