It may have been twenty years ago that I was struck by Isaiah 6, the account of the prophet's calling. The whole vision and the realization of being a man of unclean lips. The self-breaking realization of a complete lack of worthiness or holiness before God stuck with me, and the call of the prophet stuff at the start of the book. The glorious elements are the easiest ones to remember. "Who will I send?" "Here I am." That'll preach ...
and then there's this part:
He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “For how long, Lord?”
And he answered:
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the Lord has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
Isaiah finds out what he gets to say and then he asks, "How long?" God replies, essentially, after countless of your people have died and the land is ravaged. Keep speaking to them but they will not listen.
The call was to challenge people to repent but they ended up in exile. It's easy in focusing on the glory of Isaiah's call how bitter the message he was tasked to deliver could actually be, and still easier amid all the useful citations of Isaiah just for Advent and Christmas homilies that most of Isaiah is a book that follows up on a blistering beginning and a prediction that no matter what the prophet says God's people will not listen. The prophet is warned up front, "You're going to fail at this and not because you're not trying or because God is not with you but because the people won't listen."
It sure is fun to imagine God would only call you to a stunning success unlike anything anyone in your age has seen before. Matt Redmond has written that there are two types of pastors, those who are on the speaking circuit and those who wish they were. None of those guys would want to be the "prophet" whose entire ministry is defined by failure despite a direct and divine commission.
We'd like to talk about how God has a special plan for our lives and that's a special plan for what we define as success. Guess what? Judas Iscariot's life fulfilled a special plan, too, as did King Saul, as did Pharoah. Just because God has a special plan for your life doesn't mean it ends well for you! Something to keep in mind if someone prooftexts a passage about divine foreknowledge or plans to you, or brings up the bromide "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." The Gospel is good news but it is useful to define what the nature and scope of that Good News is. Being a layman I won't presume to do better than the official peeps on that topic. Just reflecting a bit on something Matt Redmond posted a little bit before bedtime.