ISAIAH 58:1-12

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. “Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10 if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a decisive threshold in the cultural evolution of Europe. Antecedent to it was the Renaissance, a literally ground-breaking flood of discoveries – long-lost Greek and Arabic texts on everything from physics and mathematics to philosophy and political theory, along with artefacts of ancient civilizations and the creative genius of the human spirit that is the wellspring of art, poetry, and music.

After the Reformation came the so-called Enlightenment, with the dramatic rise of rationalism, scientific materialism, and technology. It is truly baffling to contemplate how the earlier explosion of creativity and cultural rebirth in the Renaissance could have terminated in the sterile fields of the Industrial Age, with the soul disqualified from respectable science and the earth reduced to little more than a resource for technological progress. Baffling, that is, until we factor in the main achievement of the Reformation itself.

Such celebrated virtues as freedom, individuality, and personal conscience were not gifts of the Reformation, as is sometimes thought. These were actually the pillars of the European Renaissance. The outstanding achievement of the Reformation itself, in a sense capitalizing on these earlier advances but contradicting them as well, was its profound suspicion of human nature and its teaching of our universal depravity.


While there had been some fairly minor traditions in pre-Reformation Christianity that were pessimistic over human worth and our potential for good, the reformers made this appraisal a centerpiece in their dogmatic systems. Any light, anything of positive value, even the will to do what is right and good was something, according to these new orthodoxies, that had to be brought in or deposited from outside.

In and of itself, human nature was seen as fallen, broken, corrupt, wicked and totally bereft of God. As the complement to and further development of this depressing philosophy, Reformation theories of salvation and the Atonement had to import such despicable notions as total depravity and the propitiation of a blood-thirsty deity.

But the Bible represents the human being in a much more positive light over all. Although we can find passages that speak to our limitations, brokenness, and tendencies toward selfishness and violence, the dominant perspective of the Bible on the subject affirms and celebrates the goodness and light that are already present, if presently dormant, in all of us.

In the end, it is not our “good works” that God wants so much as our goodness itself to be expressed in all that we are. The manifested goodness of the human being is the very light of God’s glory and grace shining out on the world. Isaiah’s challenge is our own today: Open up and let it shine!


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