God’s Ways Are Higher Than Your Ways, But Not In The Way You Think
by Mike McKinniss
Among my all time favorite passages from Scripture is Isaiah 55. I can’t say, now, what prompted them, but there are many markings by this chapter in my oldest physical copy of the Bible, an NIV given to me as a high school graduate. (It’s not yet considered an ancient manuscript, but we’re getting there.) There’s a big red circle around the number “55;” a red, underlined “AMEN” in the midst of the final verse; and several underlined stanzas.
Two of those underlined verses are 8 and 9, which I’ve heard many a believer quote and, sadly, misapply.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Too often, I’ve heard this passage quoted when things aren’t going as expected or in the face of tragedy. In the case of the former, the well meaning Christian encounters circumstances seemingly contrary to her hopes or prayers and concludes the Lord must have a particular (and peculiar) way of accomplishing things. “I’ve prayed for my wayward son to return to the faith of his roots, but now he just pushes me farther away whenever I bring it up. I guess God has his ways.”
In the latter example, the again well meaning believer is trying console someone who has experienced a tragedy. Perhaps there has been an unexpected death in the family, so Isaiah 55 is recited. What they mean to say (I would hope) is something more along the lines of Romans 8:28, that God pledges to bring good out of horrific situations. What comes across, however, places God on the hook as the root cause of the tragedy and the bereaved should really quit this sad display of grief and get on board with whatever strange thing God is up to. “He had His reasons,” they might say.
Neither of these approaches does justice to Isaiah 55 and, consequently, both interpretations are dreadfully harmful.
There is much debate on the specific occasion for the writing of Isaiah 55, but it is sufficient to say that this portion of the book was intended for a people in a desperate situation. Specifically, the people of Israel were either living in the midst of exile, hundreds of miles from their promised homeland; or Israel is living at home under foreign oppression. Either way, things aren’t right.
In the midst of this, the Lord utters a remarkable prophecy through Isaiah. Israel’s situation was desperate. Things are looking incredibly bleak. Into this, Isaiah tells the nation that God’s plan is actually to restore them and their land. Joy and peace will reign among the people and the physical creation will be renewed (vv. 12-13).
The people, however, could only see devastation and hopelessness. God had abandoned them, they had to conclude. It was the only logical explanation for their present dire circumstance.
But the Lord’s ways are higher than theirs. How? God’s ways always work toward redemption and restoration, life and life to its utmost. Even when things look their darkest, when we might be tempted to believe that the Lord has abandoned us, God thinks differently than we do. God’s thoughts are higher than ours because He’s always pursuing good and He knows He’s going to get there.