If you read the gospels, Jesus is always quoting Isaiah. Thus I thought it would be a good idea to read Isaiah for myself, so I would know what Jesus was talking about. In chapter 26 I came across this passage, which was the answer to what I had been seeking for weeks: a directive for my life.
Here’s what it says:
“The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous. In the path of your judgments O LORD, we wait for you; your name and your renown are my soul’s desire.”
(3-Second Context: God has destroyed the Earth’s unbelievers and only a few loyal Jews survive to rebuild His nation.)
So the first question that arises from this passage is: what does that word righteous mean? Does it mean to do the right thing and not sin? No. That can’t be it because no one does that. Does it mean to TRY to do the right thing and TRY not to sin. That’s closer, but that definition makes deeds the goal instead of God. In any situation God is always the goal. No, I believe that righteousness is actively trying to get to know God (people say “seeking God” to mean the same thing). A righteous person tries to learn about God- What kind of stuff has God done? How does God respond to things? What is God’s M.O.? What does he promise those who believe in Him? etc. etc. Righteousness is trying to know about God. This can be done by reading The Bible for 20-minutes a day.
What people commonly consider righteousness to be- not sinning, doing good deeds, etc.- is actually just the natural result of successfully learning about God. Unlike science or history, the more you learn about God the more God learns about you. Your heart turns toward God as you learn about him. This is because God is a who, not a what, and is a living power that responds to you- person is the wrong word, technically, but as people that is the best way we can conceive of God. God is a person, so when you learn about Him what you’re actually doing is getting to know Him and y’all are becoming friends. I know this empirically. I can’t quote any scripture that says that (though there undoubtedly is some), but I know this because I have lived it and gotten to know God personally- because I tried to do so- because I practice righteousness.
So then it says “you make smooth the path of the righteous“. Does that mean that if you become friends with God He will do you a favor and make your life smooth and easy? Give you the things you want and need to really enjoy yourself for 80-odd years? No. But yes. What that means is, the closer you get with God, the more you fall in line with the will of God, and the less natural sin becomes to you. This is because as your heart lines up with God, your mind, thoughts, and feelings follow suit. Where the heart goes the mind goes, and where the mind goes the body follows (See Emmet Foxx The Sermon On The Mount). For a mental picture, think about those little metal shavings lining up on a magnetic field; how those little sticks look as they all lay straight together, pointing in the same way that the magnet is going. That’s your mind, your thoughts, your heart, your desires, your inclinations and your natural reactions to things, all lining up with the magnet that is God. How easy would it be, then, for a tiny ant or something to walk along that line of filings, as opposed to the jumbled mess if they were just poured out onto the paper. The ant is your nature (mind/heart/will), and the path for that ant would be smooth. That’s exactly what happens.
Now given that our mental state determines our physical state (Foxx), a smooth mind must result in a smooth, liquidy movement throughout this life. I have found that now that I’m closer to God than I ever have been, my movements toward the things that I want have been coming to me more and more naturally. For example I surprised myself yesterday by saying “heck” instead of “hell”. Cussing has been something I’ve wanted to cut out of my life for years. It’s unattractive, it’s a personality crutch, I don’t wanna do it. It’s been a habit I resented for years, but now that habit is slowly vanishing completely on it’s own without any effort on my part. It’s just happening, because my way is smoothing out. Smoking, too, is something I’ve been trying to get away from. It makes me not able to sing, and I love to sing. Without any kind of cold-turkey mentality or really any will power at all I have found that smoking has been slowly fading out of my life. The desire just isn’t popping up. These changes are evidence of a smooth transformation toward the self that I want to be, the self I know is right (I am defining right to mean whatever results in my happiness and success). Making decisions for myself to go here, call this person, say this, more importantly don’t say that- I’m doing everything right without having to calculate which decisions will get me there- my natural inclinations are becoming more and more in line with what the Holy Spirit- and evidential results- are telling me is right. That’s the smoothness that this passage is talking about. The way of the righteous is smooth. If it’s true that the every day decisions you make result in the overall curve of your life, I have every reason to believe that this new, correct way of thinking that’s developing inside me will result in the most prosperous future for myself simply because I’m making all the right decisions, and they, like a stream that’s making all the turns and moves necessary become a river further down the mountain, are leading me toward the future God has to offer me.
But so what makes these decisions correct (and again I’m defining “correct” to mean “resulting in my own happiness and success”- I am not defining correct to mean “not evil”)? They are more Godly, yes, but what does that mean? Why is not smoking the right thing for me to do? Or why is cursing the wrong thing for me to do? Furthermore, what does it mean that my decisions and way of life are leading me toward the most fruitful and purpose-driven future I could possibly have. I mean it’s fantastic and I’m confident of it, but what does it mean? Why is it happening? How do these decisions relate to God, who is the source of this smoothness? The last part of the passage answers that question. Your renown is my soul’s desire. All the right decisions I’m making for me personally mean that I’m bringing renown to God’s name. Let’s examine that.
A thing is considered right and in line with God’s will and character if and only if it brings renown to His name. That is God’s goal. That is God’s working mantra- “bring renown to My Own Name”. God will have His name renowned, and God gets what he wants, so therefore anything that you do that bring’s renown to God’s name is the right thing to do because it’s what God wants, and anything you do that does not bring renown to God’s name- I’m defining that as bringing shame to God’s name- is the wrong thing to do. Yes those sentences were repetitive but they were clear as a bell. It really is the most black and white concept possible. Operating under the will of God is not a maze. It does not twist and turn. There are two concrete walls between which you can walk and they are smooth– bring renown to God’s name and your way will be laid out before you in an uninterrupted walkway. Don’t, and your result will be struggle and strife to get to the end of the road.
But how do you know which every day decisions will bring renown to God’s name? If they put you in a mindset to worship and be appreciative of him. I do not like that I smoke and curse, thus the fact that those habits are being removed from me by the power of God bring me to thank and praise Him every day. I bring renown to God’s name in my joy of his work. That’s it. Easy. Change out “smoking” and “cursing” with any two things that do not make you happy and the same principle still applies. Closeness with God will take those things away from you and cause your heart to bring renown to His Holy Name. And how is it possible to always know which decision will result in your happiness? Easy. The Holy Spirit will tell you. He really will. Here’s how I know:
For a long time I was making all the wrong decisions, or more specifically I struggled day and night to know what the right decision was to make. With little things, big things, all the things. Daily decisions: emails, shopping, smoking, TV, reading. Complex moral decisions: how to treat or interact with this person, how to carry myself in certain situations, how to spend my alone time. I did not know what to do most of the time, and I swam in a dark pool of my own uncertainty. In a word I was miserable. Then I realized one day, after I had miraculously made the right decision to try to learn more about God by reading The Bible every day, that I had known what to do all along. The Holy Spirit had been living in my heart ever since the moment I invited Him to do so, but somewhere along the line (certainly during a period of joy and complacency in my life) I had started ignoring His voice and doing things on my own. I moved away from God, into myself, and I lost the ability to determine good decisions from bad ones. Thus began a downward spiral. When this thought occurred to me- that I wasn’t actually on my own but had been ignoring the Holy Spirit’s good advice- I looked back and discovered that it was absolutely true. For every decision I had been struggling to make I had known the right answer all along but had almost always chosen the wrong thing (and I am defining “wrong” to be the thing that made me less happy instead of more. People often say that something is wrong because it is sinful, but the definition of sin is a step away from God, who is happiness, thus the wrong thing will result in unhappiness- the opposite of God’s will). Anyway, I chose to do the wrong thing. I chose to satisfy the short-term whims and desires of a brain that was not in line with God, and like I said I wound up swimming around unhappily in the dark. The Holy Spirit always tells you the right thing to do; that’s His job and He loves doing it. It’s not hard. Believe it or not it’s actually part of our nature. In spite of sin, God is the basic building block of who we are. Getting to know God by reading the Bible and actually wanting to know Him will bring you back to nature by training your ear to hear and recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, and the closer you get with God the more intrinsic and obvious it will become to follow the Holy Spirit’s advice. I started making the right decisions, and my walk. got. smoother.
This passage tells us that the criterion for a right decision is only one thing- does it bring renown to God’s name? Yes? Do it. No? You can still do it, but your day won’t turn out as well as if you hadn’t. Go ahead and choose to do the wrong thing- I do it all the time. I know I shouldn’t smoke this, or I know I should go read this or work on that but I make a short-term decision to do something else, and then later in the day I know in my heart/brain that I am living on a timeline that is not as high, not as rewarding, not as fulfilling as the one that the Holy Spirit tried to lead me down. It doesn’t really matter. I’m still alive. I still love God and God still loves me, but I am in a lower state, I am personally less happy and fulfilled than I could have been had I listened- and that is the power of personal choice. That is the meaning and purpose of individuality.
I have been trying to reconcile the two ideas- individuality and oneness with God- for quite a while. I’m still working on it. But for now my discovery of this passage taught me that the closer you get to God (by reading The Bible and praying and genuinely trying) the more a part of you He becomes- the more of Him there is influencing every single minute aspect of your life (name something you did today- God was involved in it). And the more of God there is influencing something the more spectacularly that thing will turn out. This passage is a promise and an explanation for the fact that if we desire God (righteousness) we will grow closer and more in tune with His will (smooth), and this is because His will is renown for His own name- which is our joy in Him.