We live in a world we don’t fully understand. Despite all our technological progress, we still face the excruciating mystery of death. We have no satisfying explanation when a child dies in the womb, or when a loved one commits suicide or perishes in an accident. Some deaths especially confuse us. Like Abel’s blood crying out to God, such deaths cry out to us that something isn’t right in our world.
What can you say to comfort someone amid such tragedy? How can you give true comfort without belittling the pain someone has experienced?
I asked myself these questions several years ago when a neighbor asked me to come say a few words at a memorial service for his family member—a wife and mother who’d died in her 30s. By God’s grace, Isaiah 55:6–9 came to mind, and it has been a continual source of help “in this vale of tears” (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 26). This passage speaks to a confused and suffering people and calls them to look to God.
My Thoughts Are Not Your Thoughts
The passage ends (vv. 8–9) with a paradoxical comfort. Instead of providing answers, the Lord asserts his doings are beyond our full comprehension. His thoughts aren’t our thoughts; they’re categorically beyond ours. Theologians call this God’s incomprehensibility.
Some deaths especially confuse us. Like Abel’s blood crying out to God, such deaths cry out to us that something isn’t right in our world.
Surprisingly, this leads Paul to praise the Lord. In Romans 11:33–36, he quotes Isaiah and declares, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Along with the bad we don’t understand, there’s also goodness and grace that defy comprehension.
If God is unknowable, how do we know his goodness? Even as Isaiah teaches God’s transcendence of our understanding, he focuses on what God has clearly revealed about himself. The prophet’s words embody Deuteronomy 29:29, which calls us to cast ourselves on what God has made known: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” What comfort does Isaiah provide in our mysterious world of sorrow?
God Provides Compassion and Pardon
Isaiah says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7).
God provides compassion and pardon to sinners who deserve death. When we grasp how sinful we are, we see it’s an amazing mystery of love that God would accept us and love us. As the hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love” reminds us,
Why should I gain from his reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom.
The Lord puts his money where his mouth is, so to speak. He not only tells Christians to weep with those who weep but himself identifies with suffering humanity through the Son’s incarnation.
God’s deep compassion was on display in Jesus, who wept at Lazarus’s grave and over Jerusalem. He’s the great high priest who sympathizes with you in your sufferings (Heb. 4:14–16). At the cross, when we would be overcome with anger with those who’d wronged us, he compassionately asked his Father to have mercy on them (Luke 23:34).
Pardons, amazingly, come to the condemned. They come after a judge has rendered a guilty verdict. And Isaiah promises not just a small pardon or a partial pardon but an abundant pardon. God doesn’t just forgive our “little” sins in Christ; all are blotted out (Isa. 43:25).
We can be thankful if we’ve never been in an earthly court and received a prison sentence; yet a prisoner knows the greatness of a pardon. Do we? We’re guilty; we sin against God in our behavior and thoughts. We’re wicked and unrighteous, needing the pardon God provides (Isa. 55:6).
God Calls You to Draw Near for Your Good
Our thoughts are bound by our human limitations, but God’s thoughts are boundless. We only see what’s on the horizon; he has no horizon. When we don’t know why God would take a life, we can nevertheless rest on this truth: God knows best.
Isaiah promises not just a small pardon or a partial pardon but an abundant pardon.
John 11 tells of Jesus’s love for Lazarus, but Jesus let Lazarus die. The reason? God can show his glory even through death. Lazarus’s death provided an opportunity for Jesus to reveal his identity to the grieving through that powerful statement: “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25).
Isaiah insists we need to draw near to God for his glory and our good. After all, life is a mere breath. Now is the time to put our faith in Jesus Christ: “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD” (55:6–7).
God may not give us all the answers we long for, but his presence and his promises are enough. We may never know why the Lord took away our dearest friend, but we do know he is good and does good (Ps. 119:68). He’s the God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3), so we draw near to him today.