What does God value most?
Seems a good question for people who believe in God to be asking these days, what with all the national debate about values, politics and the nation's soul.
I realize that the Bible can be manipulated like an encyclopedia of statistics--the interpreter can make it prove up almost anything he wants it to support.
Still, there are deep, rich veins of truth and clear emphasis that cannot be ignored, or so it would seem. The problem is much of the heart of scripture is ignored these days, especially in our national values debate.
Take for example the poetic piece found at Isaiah 58:1-12.
This passage is from the post-exilic period in the history of Israel. Having returned from a long, harsh captivity in Babylon, the nation struggles to get back on its feet and to rebuild its political, economic, social and religious life.
It is obvious from the reading that the people remain highly devout, very religious. They enter into days of fasting, prayer and repentance, as is indicated by the reference to "sack cloth and ashes" (5). These are people who seek God's counsel and desire to be in close contact with God (2).
But their devotion has no good result. For all of their religious activity, God does not come to their aid. God does not respond. God seems to ignore them (3).
At last, God speaks.
"Let me tell you the kind of 'fast' that gets my attention," God says (6).
"Here is the order of worship I'm looking for!"
Pay your laboring class fairly (3b).
Stop your quarrelling and fighting (4).
Loose the bonds of injustice and let the oppressed go free (6).
Share your bread with the hungry (7).
Bring the homeless poor into your house (7).
Provide clothing for those who need it (7).
Take care of your family (7).
Meet the needs of those who suffer (10).
These are the things that God values according to Isaiah.
The passage is full of promise. Those who value what God values will receive countless affirmations as they move through life. The promise here is that God will go with those who value what God values. Their cries will not go unheeded. They will be protected, sustained and supported. As some of my friends often tell me, God will "show up" for people like this!
Read the entire passage. You will hear the promise and the resolve.
The concerns of this ancient Hebrew poem are strangely absent from most of our national values debate here in the United States. In my view, we avoid these fundamental values to our own peril as a people.