• Aarik Danielsen

Isaiah and Eugene

He’ll settle things fairly between nations.

He’ll make things right between many peoples.

They’ll turn their swords into shovels,

their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;

they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob,

let’s live in the light of God.


— From Isaiah 62 (The Message)


Days before Russia invaded Ukraine, an icon gently touched my chin and bid me lift my gaze, returning me to God’s word.


My eyes surveyed dozens of thumbnails, miniatures of masterpieces painted by an artist who resides in St. Louis, a mere two-hour drive east of me. Soon they settled upon “Christ: Swords into Plowshares.”


 
What else might the love of God bend?
 

Kelly Latimore casts this Jesus in work clothes, his heavy blue apron constraining the red tunic underneath. Backlit by a divine globe, one hand raises a hammer; the other steadies a sword, already curving toward a different end. Once lethal, its tip glows holy orange—a color which only exists in the presence of refining fire. My God makes all things new.


The icon does its work on me. I long. And I pray. Chasing a passage I once knew by heart, I typed the words “swords” and “plowshares” into an online Bible. Scanning translations, my eyes rested again. This time upon The Message, a lyrical likeness radiating from the pen of one of my favorite poet-pastors, Eugene Peterson.


A balm, not a bomb, Isaiah 62 provoked a series of deep, clarifying breaths. And then, as I tucked these words into the folds of my soul to keep, a blessed mystery. What else might the love of God bend?


My thoughts flashed to the blacksmiths of our day, means God uses toward his softer ends. Shane Claiborne and his RAWtools cohorts fashion deadly weapons into actual spades and mattocks. My friend Taylor Schumann writes necessary words about gun reform, similarly disarming the soul.


Some men, the title of “pastor” before their names, sit behind screens, regarding themselves as everyday warriors. Their thoughtless words dipped in legalism, racism, sexism—and nearly every other deadly -ism known to God and man—cut deep. Too often, they stab the already wounded.


 
Perhaps God sweats within his holy workshop, heating and turning awful, angry parts of speech, making them fit for his language of grace.
 

Hard as it is to fathom, perhaps God will bend their keyboards till the letters break, spilling and settling upon his banner of love. To spell out his name. Perhaps God sweats within his holy workshop, heating and turning awful, angry parts of speech, making them fit for his language of grace.


Someday only these words will remain; surely he works, even now. Someday gardens will flourish where we laid concrete; surely he bends everything toward himself, the source of their light.


In the days since, I wrestle with all manner of holy words. How is Isaiah 62 good news today to Ukrainian mothers and fathers reluctantly bearing arms as an act of love? Or to pacificists like me, who long to see right prevail without bloodshed—and know this cannot come to pass.


I want to preach you a good sermon, to say every war is no more or less than child’s play in light of God’s power and purpose. I want to starch my suit, stand on the tips of my toes and herald the day of Zion. But I read the news and, like Isaiah before me, sense the sear and stain of coal across my lips.


In the unlikely event someone dubbed me a saint—right here, right now—my icon would be cloaked in an obvious gray. Gray for the areas which lie between a perpetual present and eternal future. Gray where black words on white pages blur beyond my tears. No golden halo, just gray as all colors spill together.


 
Within the picture plane, I lift one hand to rub more furrows into my brow; the other falls open, heavenward, as if to say Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, I guess.
 

Within the picture plane, I lift one hand to rub more furrows into my brow; the other falls open, heavenward, as if to say Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, I guess.


Squint hard and pray for me. A small swatch of cosmic orange might announce itself like a miracle. Perhaps the pages of an open Bible will bear the flame; maybe the orange lives and beats beneath my breastbone, behind all the gray.


Isaiah 62 leaves me with as many questions as answers. But I know this: where the prophets and poets line up to say the same thing in different terms, I am twice as likely to believe. Let the words of Isaiah and Eugene bend and glow, from fire into faith. Let’s live in the light of God.




Don't miss a thing.

Sign up below to stay up-to-date on Fathom columns.

Where to find more from Aarik

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
Discontent POST Header_updated-01.png