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Daily Devotional • November 29

Sarah Cornwell
Long Suffering
A Reading from Isaiah 1:21-31

21 How the faithful city
   has become a whore!
   She that was full of justice,
righteousness lodged in her—
   but now murderers! 
22 Your silver has become dross,
   your wine is mixed with water. 
23 Your princes are rebels
   and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
   and runs after gifts.
They do not defend the orphan,
   and the widow’s cause does not come before them. 

24 Therefore says the Sovereign, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel:
Ah, I will pour out my wrath on my enemies,
   and avenge myself on my foes! 
25 I will turn my hand against you;
   I will smelt away your dross as with lye
   and remove all your alloy. 
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
   and your counsellors as at the beginning.
Afterwards you shall be called the city of righteousness,
   the faithful city. 

27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice,
   and those in her who repent, by righteousness. 
28 But rebels and sinners shall be destroyed together,
   and those who forsake the Lord shall be consumed. 
29 For you shall be ashamed of the oaks
   in which you delighted;
and you shall blush for the gardens
   that you have chosen. 
30 For you shall be like an oak
   whose leaf withers,
   and like a garden without water. 
31 The strong shall become like tinder,
   and their work like a spark;
they and their work shall burn together,
   with no one to quench them. 

Today’s readings could be read as rebuke against an inscrutable God. Isaiah prophesies that the Lord will avenge himself against the foes of God (Isaiah 1:24); but Psalm 10 asks, “Why do you stand so far off, O Lord, and hide yourself in time of trouble?” We feel deeply for God’s servant St. Paul, who writes of persecution which ultimately ends in imprisonment and execution. Who is this God who has the power to set all aright, yet, like the vineyard owner in today’s parable, repeatedly sends servants to suffer at the hands of evil men (Luke 20:9-18)? We may very well want to say to this seemingly negligent God: What the hell is going on?

Lest you think an expletive casually made its way into a devotional, wait. Such a question hits closer to home than we realize. What is going on? Hell. The terrifying and eternal absence of God is the specter that lurks behind today’s Scripture passages. Without the possibility of an eternity removed from the divine presence, and all the horror of human choice turned toward tortured nothingness, then God’s delay in acting finally, decisively, is only callousness. The sacrifice of his loving servants is sadistic madness, rather than courage as they minister to those on the brink of darkness.  

When we allow for the possibility of the Pit — an existence eternally closed off to God’s love and blessings — then we better understand God and his mercy. He holds off, giving us as much time as possible to choose him and to desire our own good. As St. Peter writes: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise … but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). 

Let us pray this day and every day for the true repentance of all souls — beginning with our own — so that we may know God’s good mercy and hasten the coming of the kingdom (2 Pet. 3:12). 

Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have seven children and they live in Wheaton, Illinois.

Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of Nyahururu – The Anglican Church of Kenya
St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
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