For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
This passage is often cited to assuage our outrage at the evil and suffering in the world, or at difficult doctrines like hell. “How can a loving God allow…” These nasty things are passed off as God’s higher thoughts and ways, and we must be content with our naivety. To be abused this way, God’s words must be plucked from their context. We must ignore the little word “for” which connects this idea to the previous one:
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)
Now we can see that it is the Lord’s compassion and his willingness to forgive abundantly that are higher ways than ours. Fallen men do not naturally forgive. We wallow in our lower ways of selfishness, bitterness, anger, and revenge. We love to criticize, to compare, to judge, to condemn. We raise ourselves by bringing down another. We argue and fight and go to war over our petty, offended egos.
In his higher way, God has also gone to war. The warrior-prince Jesus sallied forth to destroy the works of the enemy. But he did not fight on equal terms. His higher ways were the secret weapon that has taken out the enemy of sin and death; his higher ways were compassion and forgiveness, at the price of his own life.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Jesus Christ, the Word of God, has come down from heaven and accomplished his purpose. His success has opened all the mystery of God’s higher ways to us, so that we can engage our daily enemies with those same secret weapons of mercy and love, and overcome.