This last Sunday we heard about the prophet Isaiah’s life-changing encounter with God. Here’s the scoop: Isaiah had a vision of Israel’s God, enthroned in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. This radical experience causes Isaiah to immediately cry out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I have unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. And my eyes have seen YHWH the Almighty” (Isa. 6:5). I imagine that moment must have been terrifying. To come into direct contact with the Holy God and consequently have your self-perception and the perception of your world so drastically altered... Probably not so fun. Isaiah’s recognition of his own falsehoods and of his people’s falsehoods makes me wonder: What are the falsehoods and cruelties to which we have grown accustomed in our culture today? In what ways are we a people of unclean lips? It’s not a comfortable question to be sure, and I get antsy just writing it. But it’s a good and necessary thing to reflect on the world we live in and the systems that shape us, possibly in ways we aren’t even aware of. So…
As for me, I often think about where our systems teach us to seek and find our value as people. We have our horrific caste systems built up on ideas of race and sex and bigotry. These feed us lies of either narcissism or humiliation depending on where we line up according to these false measuring sticks. Then we have our culture of excessive consumerism that teaches us to seek value in an abundance of material possessions, so many of which we don’t need. We’re constantly bombarded by advertisements telling us about the next thing we “need” to make our lives more fulfilling. It’s a false promise, and it just continues a cycle of dissatisfaction with what we already have. It also inhibits our ability to be grateful for those things which really do matter.
We’re also taught to compare ourselves and our lives to other people, and to find our value in somehow being as good as or better off than they are. Our social media is a wonderful instrument to this effect. Look at all those beautiful pictures so-and-so posted from their tropical vacation on Facebook; why isn’t my life like that? Or How many likes did my latest post get? Or Why don’t I have more followers on Instagram? These are falsehoods. Our social media can’t add one whit to our true value as human beings. Nor can it detract from it. Social media can, however, lead us to pour so much time and energy into our virtual activities that we neglect our deeper, life-giving relationships with the people we care about. (I don’t mean to suggest that social media isn’t useful and that it doesn’t have its benefits; there are many wonderful things about having access to information and about being able to stay in contact with people. What I am saying is that we can get swept away into an unhealthy relationship with our social media if we aren’t aware.)
We could talk for hours about falsehoods and unclean lips, about wells with empty water that only leave us thirstier than before we drank. But in God, in real and genuine Love, there is true sustenance. There’s a reason Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” (Jn. 6:35). We must eat that which actually satisfies. We must ground our sense of value in that which is truly valuable. We must build our lives on rock and not on sand.