See, the Lord’s hand is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
Rather, your iniquities have been barriers
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
Does God always hear our prayers?
Of course, we answer. Isn’t that what we were taught as children in Sunday School? Weren’t we comforted with assurances that God would always hear us, always come to our rescue when we prayed?
Isaiah seems to counter this belief with his assertion that God actually hides his face from us because of our sins. It’s not that God can’t save, or can’t hear our prayers, but that God chooses not to.
That’s a startling, and potentially devastating, statement. The implication is that sin separates us from God in such a way that we can’t even communicate with God. If this is true, then how can any of us be heard? Where is the hope that any of us can connect with God in any meaningful way, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”?
Are our sins really barriers between us and our God?
Well, yes and no.
But let me begin with the “no.” I believe that God always hears our prayers — period. Just because we lead incomplete and broken lives, marred by sins and shortcomings, doesn’t mean that God blocks or rejects our entreaties and supplications. Instead, as the people of God, we believe that we are constantly being led onward by grace to be our “best selves.” We are in the process of being saved from our sins. And throughout that process, we face setbacks and struggles.
However, Isaiah is addressing a different kind of problem. His audience believes that they are doing quite well. Their prayers lack a self-reflective quality. They do not realize that the things they are asking God for, cannot be granted because they themselves are not acting in ways that allow those requests to be granted.
To give a simplistic analogy, imagine having your hands and arms full of boxes and packages. What would happen if you asked a friend to hand you another large box? What good would it do to even ask, when it is obvious that you don’t have a free hand to receive it? Your friend wouldn’t bother to hand it to you, unless you set something down first.
In a sense, this is the problem with Isaiah’s audience. The injustices in which they participate make them incapable of receiving the blessings of God which they desire. The ways in which they oppress others is literally incompatible with a healthy relationship with God.
The Lenten challenge for us is to consider the ways our prayers are being blocked by specific behaviors that support and continue injustice.
Prayer: God, cleanse me of my sin which allows injustice to go on unhindered. I cannot claim that “I did not know.” I cannot plead ignorance. Open my eyes to the ways in which I am a part of the problem. Amen.
Justice Challenge: Write a list of three injustices in your city, nation, or world which you are concerned about. How are you culpable in the continuation of these injustices? Pray a prayer of confession for each one.