Wednesday July 18, 2018
This is one of those days when the mass gives us a reading I at least haven’t read before, this striking passage from Isaiah, and it seems wonderfully strange. Isaiah is talking about how God is using the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians to punish the people of Israel for their iniquities. The Assyrians just want to conquer, but God is directing this violence towards a higher end.
But it’s the language that draws me in.
Will the axe boast against him who hews with it?
Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?
That’s just powerful as poetry, as language, and it’s powerful, too, as idea—that we are all sometimes axes and all sometimes saws, used by God.
Or we are the ones who are struck. The ones who are cut.
The spiritual life isn’t always a matter of joy and peace. Sometimes it involves violence and destruction.
A very small example.
A few weeks ago someone I respect criticized something I had written and said. He told me that he thought parts of it were unclear and parts of it were wrong, and my first reaction was I think like the first reaction most of us have. I felt cut, I felt hurt, and then angry, anxious to strike back.
But this is a person I respect, as I said, and I know his motive wasn’t to hurt me, that he was acting in friendship, and so after I calmed down a little, I started rethinking what I had said, and doing some more reading, and gradually I realized that my friend was partly right, I did need to be clearer, and that his criticism had been good thing in the end, that it had forced me to a deeper understanding of the issue. He has been the axe, hewn by God, in this one small case.
Now, I’m a fine one to talk. I’m terrible at taking criticism, and I’m getting worse at it as I get older, not better. But on the other hand maybe that kind of qualifies me to suggest that the rest of this week you, too, be on the lookout for some criticism you might be needing. Not all criticism comes from God, of course, but it just might be that someone in the next few days will call you to account on some issue or problem, and that no matter how hard it is to hear that, you should try to be open to it, try to hear it.
Who knows, it could be the Lord, trying to help you overcome your own pride and your own stubbornness of heart—trying to bring you back to him.