On Isaiah 51:1-6

Inger B. Hanson

Year A / Pentecost 12

Shepherd of the Mountains, Jackson, WY

August 27, 2017


On Isaiah 51:1-6  Leaving The Tunnels We Know For Divine Possiblity


We call it tunnel vision –

when all you can see is your perspective, your truth.

It’s when your peripheral vision –

all that normally corrects, adjusts, delights

and yes, sometimes distracts –

stops working.

Tunnels are dark.

And there isn’t always a bright light at the end of them.

More often, we have a sense of inevitability –

of only being able to travel down this path, or perhaps backward.

If there is any color, perhaps all we see is red.

Perhaps all we see is despair, or hopelessness.

You’ve been there, right?

Maybe briefly.  Maybe a longer visit.

Maybe to a degree – where your vision only narrowed.

What causes tunnel vision?

It’s a noted side effect when we feel anxious or attacked,

when our famous “fight or flight” response is triggered.

Scientists talk about the amygdala “hijacking” the rational brain,

only allowing us to think yes or no, rather than considering how or why.[1]

More metaphorically, it can be the effect of long-term stress.

I think of studies showing how financial strain

impairs cognitive function.[2]

It can come from emotional distress and trauma,

where maybe first the edges were just grey but are steadily darkening

because of a bleak diagnosis, a lost job or a fractured relationship.

And tunnels don’t have to be solitary places.

Sometimes they can be strongest and darkest

when everyone sees the same thing:

like after a hurricane or stock market crash.

Then they can be echo-chambers,

where the narrative you are locked on

is confirmed by your preferred news channel,

your email groups, or your social media feed.

The Israelites Isaiah addresses were in their own tunnel.

Scholar Ronald Peters remarks,

“These words were addressed to people who had experienced

more than a generation of pain and disgrace in exile

after Judah and its capital city were overrun by ruthless Babylonian conquerors in 587 BCE.

The exiles recalled the burning of Jerusalem,

the capture, torture, and death of their king, Zedekiah,

the slaughter of their leading citizens,

and their ignominious trek into Babylonian captivity (Jer 52:4-27).[3]

As we well know, “in the midst of confusing noises of stress or crisis,

it is not unusual to lose a clear sense of perspective.”

But however we got there,

whether the tunnels we find ourselves in were expected, deserved,

or we fell into one suddenly,

as dark as they are,

I think there’s something in us that feels safe in tunnels.

Everything there is black and white.

We know what to expect –

there’s only that narrow highway in front of us.

That sense of certainty gives us a measure of control

and an idea of what to do.

In a tunnel, we can trudge sure-footed.

In a tunnel, however grim, we can survive.

Into that chattering chaos, Isaiah’s clear voice rings out.

“Listen to me.”

In the dimness of the tunnel, Isaiah demands,

“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,

and to the quarry from which you were dug.”

Remember, dear ones, who and whose you are.

On the walls, Isaiah paints murals,

“Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who bore you;

for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many.”

Isaiah reminds the Israelites of God’s paint brush, of living color.

The certainty of the tunnel world would never permit a baby to be born

to woman so far beyond childbearing years.

Indeed, Abraham and Sarah too, were once caught in a tunnel of despair

as they desperately tried to conceive.

The strident tunnel voices don’t know what do

with the reminder of the baby

that was named Isaac, for laughter.[4]

We are reminded of the bigger picture,

of the world beyond our tunneled perspective,

where God’s presence and activity isn’t limited to yes or no,

but holds fantastic possibility.

And the world Isaiah paints isn’t just for the Israelites.

Theologian Angela Hancock notes

that the transformations Isaiah describes

“are ultimately not just for Israel’s sake but for the blessing of all,

as the broadening of the prophet’s vision

to include the hopes of a wider world in verses 4 and 5 indicates.

While the text began by speaking particularly to those

who “seek the Lord” in Israel,

it becomes clear that promised deliverance

will be a light to any who long with Israel for a just and fruitful world.”[5]

“Listen,” Isaiah cries out, interrupting the tunnel chatter once again.

And “Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath…”!

Even as our eyes are straining at the ceilings

and dark floors of our tunnels,

there’s a sense that however real they are right now,

they will vanish and wear out.

In contrast, God’s salvation,

God’s promise of the garden of joy, gladness,

thanksgiving and song will endure.[6]

Mere survival isn’t the point.

Rather, we are called out of our tunnels, or, if you will, our tombs.

We are called to ask why and how,

rather than be satisfied with yes or no.

Now, outside the tunnel isn’t safe.

But God promises life after death, resurrection after the cross,

a garden after a desert.

And Christ has gone before us and united to us in baptism,

walks with us.

This week if the voices get loud or if you sense a tunnel forming

may you be comforted by Isaiah.

Listen.  Look.

Remember who and whose you are.

Remember and cling to what God has done and what God promises

when the edges darken, or things seem stark.

May those memories open your eyes, your ears and your hearts

that you hear and see in living color,

with less certainty but more life.



[1] Summarized here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amygdala_hijack

[2] http://www.medicaldaily.com/poverty-lowers-iq-how-financial-strains-put-pressure-cognitive-logical-reasoning-255093

[3] Peters in Feasting on the Word, pg. 364

[4] Here, Angela Dienhart Hancock’s Feasting on the Word commentary was helpful (365)

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.  367.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *