As we continue to stride through these oracles of the prophet Isaiah, an image from "back in the day" came to me with the conclusion of this morning's readings. I was sitting in a Social Studies class (don't remember what grade it was), and we were learning about the Korean and Viet Nam wars. The Cold War was still "raging" and everyone was still very nervous about "assured mutual destruction" resulting from the super powers of the globe tripping into intercontinental, thermonuclear war. The teacher was trying to explain "domino theory" to us, and had drawn an illustration on the black board: a row of "dominoes" with the names of particular countries drawn on them, with the first domino being "Russia" and the rest being the names of countries associated with the Warsaw Pact, Cuba, the new countries in Indochina, etc.
The idea behind Domino Theory was that if one country fell to communism (a dread concept, back in the day), then other nearby countries would be vulnerable to the same. This idea was used to justify American, and allied powers, in their intervention into the affairs of these regions. It also provided grist for Communist states to support the insurgencies that the West was challenging. You can see how this didn't work out well for all involved. Civil wars, and the pain and horror that accompany them, became the theaters in which the superpowers attempted to oppose each other, without "direct" intervention. It was a mess, and in many ways continues to be so. This is not to justify one world-view over another. I am just attempting to describe a moment in our history that, I think, can link us up emotionally and somatically with the experience of the nations around ancient Israel that Isaiah is describing in his visions.
Here we are, in the midst of the "Promised Land" as the people of God: one by one around us, the great powers are both whittling away at our sense of being "ok" and under God's protection AND they themselves are tumbling and falling. It seems that NOTHING good is happening, and all this while the prophet is reminding us that the reason for these calamities is because we humans have departed from the rule of God's Law. We have chosen our own way, over and against the one formed for us by God. We have dabbled in sin, submerged ourselves in injustice and plunged deeply into apostasy. Not only that, but the other nations have stumbled dramatically, each in their own way. God has declared a reckoning, with broad, geographic implications.
What will save us? Not much. The same fear and trembling that the Domino Theory was intended to inspire in our 60s and 70s brains is the same dread imposed by God's impending judgment. Our way of life is being threatened. We are being challenged, and things are not good all around us.
The departure from that modern fear comes with the prophet's continual beckoning, that the people turn back form injustice and turn toward a more just life in communion with a loving God. Reconciliation is still, really always, possible if we turn back from sin. That's the hard part.
Turning back from sin toward justice, from the despair of wrong choices to the grace of the correct ones that forge restoration between us and God. It also creates some pretty insurmountable hurdles for us, as Isaiah continues to paint us all into the corners of the room: yes, we need to seek salvation; yes, we need to find a way not only to get with with God but to KEEP right with God; yes, we need ALL that....but HOW? WHO will help us? That is the big question....stay tuned. Things in Isaiah are going to get pretty interesting in a few chapters. In the meantime, though, we have some more woe to wade through, first.....as the dominoes of the nations of old tumble and fall.