Turning the street signs

Turning the street signs

How can a whole society lose its moral way?

The fifth chapter of Isaiah gives a clear indication of the process.  And in an effort to visualize this, I am, once again, on the streets of my town.  This time, I’m looking at signs.

As a reminder, Isaiah 5 is a chapter heavy with the pronouncement of coming judgment.  God has been provoked by his people and his anger has been kindled.  What ignited that fire?

For they have rejected the law of the LORD Almighty
     And spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel.
Therefore the LORD’s anger burns against his people…. (Is. 5:24-25)

This is what I’m after in the photo above.  (With the help of a little Photoshop magic, of course.  I should be so lucky.)  The key to living guilt-free is to convince yourself that you’re on the right path.  Turn the street sign.  Convince yourself that the road you’re taking is what God intended.

But how does a society do that?  Earlier, Isaiah called out the process:

Woe to those who call evil good
     and good evil

who put darkness for light
     and light for darkness,

who put bitter for sweet
     and sweet for bitter.

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
     and clever in their own sight.  (Is. 5:20-21)

As soon as I read that verse, I thought of the “tessellations” of the great M.C. Escher.  Light transitions into darkness.  Reality shifts. But it’s a gradual process.

The first step is renaming.  Redefining.  Changing the agreed-upon norms.

We see this in our own time.  Sexuality is the obvious one. The guidelines God called good and sweet, we have gradually come to deride as puritanical, outdated, intrusive.  Even hateful.  Our shifting mores are driven by an exaltation of self.   What I want, I should have.

But there are more subtle out-workings of this individual-over-all mentality.  For example, America has a rising teacher shortage – due, in part, to the burgeoning demands of parents for special treatment for their children.  Yes, he didn’t turn his homework in on time, but how dare you mark him down!

Standing at a corner by the river, I think, I wish it were this easy.  If only choices (and their repercussions) were as obvious as two conflicting arrows.  (Or overt street signs.) But I know from my own heart that the shift to self-centered norms has subtle beginnings.  Not making time for people.  Neglecting intercessory prayer.  Reading Scripture perfunctorily.  Superficial repentance.

Changing the street sign doesn’t alter the destination of the street.  I can tell myself that this road in my town doesn’t end up in the river, but if I go down it, I’m going to end up wet.  Sure, the warning is obvious.  If I’m not oblivious.

Israel, in Isaiah’s time had dulled themselves to God’s direction.  They forced God to bring severe measures to set them right.

I pray that we won’t face the same.

Almighty God, Holy One of Israel, forgive our disregard of your way for us.  Sometimes, we know we’re wrong and we forge ahead.  More often, Lord, we subtly redefine your norms to suit our wants.  Teach us, by your Spirit, to walk rightly before you.  For your path is always good, sweet and bathed in light.

Reader:  As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.