Yes, the bright, spiky flowers are lovely, but like jewels, they need the dark setting to shine. I am standing at the edge of a man-made pond in an arboretum at midday, and as I raise my camera to take this photo, I notice that the black mirror of the surface reflects the sun in the clouds directly overhead.
In one frame, I can see both the water below and the sky above. (I’m tempted to see the specks on the water as stars in the firmament.) I can look up while looking down.
This double view is trickier when we apply it to our life situations. It’s hard to look at the turmoil in the world right now and keep heaven in view. The waters are dark; where’s the reflection of the sun?
In Isaiah 36, we are presented with a narrative involving Hezekiah, the king of Judah. In it, the invading Assyrian army approaches Jerusalem and demands its surrender or face annihilation. In the process, it warns the king not to expect help from his God. Look what happened to all the other cities that trusted their gods!
I like this photo because of how the harsh sun seems to outline everything in black. The physical world is made even more solid. Imposing. It’s easy to think that the present reality is all that matters. I’m sure those in Jerusalem were tempted to see the Assyrian army as an unstoppable force.
But Hezekiah turns to the Lord in prayer. And what an instructive prayer it is.
Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, Lord, and hear; open your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. (vs. 16-17)
Somehow, in the midst of his dire trouble, Hezekiah is able to picture heaven’s truth. In response to Sennacherib’s dismissal of God, Hezekiah imagines Yahweh on his throne – holy, all-powerful, unique, and sovereign over all of the world he has created.
Only after the king finds this lens does he bring up his request. But even here, it is about God and his reputation.
I find irony in the king’s call for God to open his eyes and ears. For I know that in my own life, the issue is not the Lord’s awareness, but mine. I’m the one who far too often sees turmoil – whether on a grand or granular scale – as the dark, unassailable reality which pushes God out of the frame.
To me, then, God’s words to Sennacherib are a powerful reminder:
“Have you not heard?
Long ago I ordained it.
In days of old I planned it;
now I have brought it to pass…” (v. 26)
God is never out of the frame. But it takes faith to see his purposes shining in the midst of history.
In fact, it takes reflection.
LORD Almighty, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. And king over every dark water of turmoil – pandemics, riots, injustice, polarized society. Be present in our time. Bring your plans to pass.
Reader: What have you seen recently that stands out as a reflection of heaven in our dark times?