How often when things don’t go our way, or when our prayers are not answered as we would wish we think of Isaiah 55:8 where it says ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” In other words, we conclude that we cannot understand God or His ways and the reason He does not respond as we would is that, in the words of Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
The conclusion is that we just cannot understand God. But what if this conclusion is not what God is saying here? What if He is not talking about the fact that we cannot understand Him but that He doesn’t act as we would expect Him to. Or to put it another way, He doesn’t act like we act in an important way.
Like all of Scripture, these verses need to be read in context. In verses 6-8, God says to us, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”
In other words, if you have made a mess of your life, if you are in trouble, if you need God’s mercy and love and forgiveness, turn to me and I will have mercy on you. In fact, I will freely pardon you.” And then He says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways”, declares the Lord.
Why would He say this? Because He isn’t like us. If someone has offended us or hurt us or messed up their lives we have long memories. We expect them to get their act together, make up for their offense, pull up their bootstraps. We can be unforgiving, lack compassion and mercy, hold on to grudges and offenses and withhold our love, forgiveness or kindness.
God is saying, I am not like you. I don’t think like you think. My ways are higher than your ways. My heart is bigger than your heart. In fact, no matter how badly you have messed up, how often you have messed up or no matter what the mess you have created, come to me and I will have mercy on you and will freely pardon. While we would think He would withhold His love and mercy, because that is our way, He says, no I give it freely, every time. Come to me.
In fact, in verse 12, we read this: “You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
Dane Ortlund writes: “He isn’t like you. Even the most intense of human love is but the faintest echo of heaven’s cascading abundance. His heartfelt thoughts for you outstrip what you can conceive. He intends to restore you into the radiant resplendence for which you were created. And that is dependent not on you keeping yourself clean but on you taking your mess to him. He doesn’t limit himself to working with the unspoiled parts of us that remain after a lifetime of sinning. His power runs so deep that he is able to redeem the very worst parts of our past into the most radiant parts of our future. But we need to take those dark miseries to him.” (Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, pp 160-161).
How lucky we are that His ways are not our ways. His heart of compassion and mercy is unlike that of any of us.