Gratitude in the Face of Judgement

In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you; your name and your renown are the soul’s desire. –Isaiah 26:8

Dear members and friends,

The Bible is a book of many stories about humans and their relationship with their God. However, many stories in the Bible are sad, disturbing or both. One of the reasons for this is because the stories in the Bible express the overwhelming injustice among humans as caused by other humans. Isaiah is one of four major prophetic books in the Old Testament and one of its main themes is the constant injustices the people of Israel faced. Their injustice was especially brutal when the ruler and his subjects were selfish and thus evil, or when they were ruled by a foreign power. Israelites cried out to their God as their burden and suffering went beyond the limit of endurance. But often, there was no immediate answer from their God. For instance, after the fall of the kingdom of Judah, the captivity in Babylon continued for another 70 years.

This message in Isaiah 26:8 is clearly a cry of deep despair, “In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.” This is from desperate hearts because the Israelites – according to Exodus, Joshua and Judges – feared the presence of their God more than they favored it. In other words, the Israelites preferred not to be in the divine presence, if they had a choice. Also, it was a common belief in ancient times that if one were to see the face of God, one would not survive the experience. Yet, in Isaiah they cried out, “In the path of your judgments, O Lord, we wait for you.” One way to understand this outcry is that they had given up the hope that the world would become a fair and just place for them to live. Therefore, what they desired was the judgment of God on all humans, because they knew and believed that God’s judgment would be fair and equal to all.

I found this particular part in Isaiah deeply saddening due to the Israelites’ suffering, often caused by one or a few individuals. Yet at the same time, I felt a deep gratefulness and even joy for the fact that I am living in a time and place where human equality is a commonly-accepted principle and society is ruled in general by publicly-established law. Somehow, after reading Isaiah, I felt that all my complaints and pains were extremely light and bearable. The path to a thankful and content life seems to begin with an acknowledgement of the blessings that have been and are still present in our lives. A spiritual practice we all could try is to take a moment of discovering and rediscovering the true values in our lives instead of constantly seeking ways to obtain what we desire to possess and/or achieve. As Buddha teaches, we already have everything to be peaceful, joyful and happy simply by being a human.

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee