3 ways to wait in the midst of ruin

Lessons on Advent from Isaiah 64:1-12

December 21, 2020

The Advent season is about waiting for the Lord with hope-filled anticipation. As the people of Israel waited for Christ to come, so now, we wait for Christ’s return. Yet, we are waiting in a waiting room that is full of pain and sorrow. We are waiting in the midst of ruin, longing for redemption and restoration.

Within our own hearts and in the world around us, depression and disaster creep. We’re living in the midst of a pandemic. We bury our loved ones, we lose our jobs, we watch our children rebel against everything they were taught. Our marriages struggle. Our children get bullied. We have hard bosses at work. We get sick and weak. Our joints hurt. Our society does not appear to be fairing any better, as it appears in the news that we are losing our collective mind. Sexual immorality and perversion of all sorts permeate our world. 

We are waiting on the Lord in the midst of a whole lot of ruin. How does one wait for the Lord in such times? I believe that we can find an answer to this question by considering Isaiah 64:1-12. In this passage, we encounter a series of complaints and petitions from Isaiah the prophet regarding the failure of humanity to obey God and the question of whether or not God would allow the people to persist in their disobedience. Isaiah is frustrated by the rebellion of the people who show no regard for God. A divine intervention needs to occur. The people are in tremendous need. They are waiting for God to show up and deliver them. 

From this passage, I believe we have three examples of how to wait in the midst of ruin:

First, we must wait expectantly. As we look at verses 1-3, we must note Isaiah’s affirmation of God’s ability. He asks the LORD to “rend the heavens and come down.” The language is reminiscent of the miracles in the wilderness and the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai when the earth quaked and the skies thundered at the sound of God’s activity, leaving the people in awe-filled wonder and reverent fear. Isaiah knows that because he has done it in the past, the Lord can do it again. Thus, he calls upon the Lord with expectation, which is where we are instructed today.

As we find ourselves in this period of waiting, we must not forget what our God is capable of doing. We must wait with an expectancy that reflects confidence in his character and ability. We must make bold request of our God, as Isaiah did, “O’ Lord, would you rend the heavens and come down?” Would you shake the world again with your presence? Would you intervene in your mercy? This is what it means to wait expectantly.

Secondly, we must wait faithfully. Consider the first part of verse 5, where we read, “You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways.” The idea of “gladly doing right,” which parallels “remembering your ways,” refers to living faithfully. The point is not to suggest that God blesses us because we are perfect. Such a myth will quickly be dispelled in the next few verses. Instead, the idea is that those who place their trust in the ways of the LORD and seek to walk in them with faith and repentance can be certain that God will deliver them.

For us, this means that we must not allow the circumstances of our waiting to dictate our faithfulness to God. We do not judge God’s goodness toward us on the basis of the difficulties that we face. He does not just love us; he is the very definition of love. We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

We must wait with faithfulness to him, not wandering away from him because things get difficult. He has not promised us an easy life, but he has promised to be with us through the difficulty.

Finally, we must wait humbly. As verses 5b-12 reveal, we can never forget that we are always dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. We must wait humbly on the LORD, recognizing that he alone is God, not us. His ways are higher than our ways, and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. The LORD is not indebted to us for our faithfulness. Even our righteous deeds are like “filthy rags” before his perfect holiness. As verse 8 reminds us, “Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” This verse declares the absolute sovereignty of God over his creation. We as God’s creation do not get to challenge his authority. 

The clay does not say to the potter, “I believe you got this wrong. I think you made a mistake.” Our God does not make any mistakes. He is working out his purpose even in the midst of the pain, the suffering, and the sorrow that we are facing in this waiting room of ruin. And yet, we also know that he is good and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. “Though He cause grief, He will have compassion, according to the abundance of His steadfast love, for the Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone” (Lam. 3:31-33). Thus, we can wait humbly because we know he is trustworthy.

Let us not mistake waiting with passivity. The act of waiting is a profoundly theological statement. Waiting is not passive. Waiting is rooted in active trust in God. And the ability to wait expectantly, faithfully, and humbly ultimately comes from Christ’s work for us. The work of Christ reminds us that while our lives and our world are often a mess, he has not abandoned us or his plan. When all we had to offer were the filthy rags of our own works, Christ came willingly and took our place under the just wrath of God in order that we might be declared righteous, fully accepted into God’s family, not on the basis of our effort, but on the basis of his grace and mercy toward us. Now, as a result of Christ’s work, we can persevere and wait with hope because we have known and experienced the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 5:1-5).

As we remember the first coming of Christ and anticipate his second coming during this Advent season, may we worship as we think of how Christ came down from the heavens to deliver us. He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). And one day, just as the prophet prayed in Isaiah 64, the heavens will be torn open and all of the Lord’s enemies will be vanquished and we will reign with him forever. In light of this reality, let us wait for our full and final redemption in the midst of the ruin that will one day be made right.

Casey B. Hough

Casey B. Hough (Ph.D., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as lead pastor at Copperfield Church in Houston, Texas, and assistant professor of biblical interpretation at a Luther Rice College and Seminary. Casey and his wife, Hannah, have three sons and two daughters. For more ministry resources from Casey, visit his … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24