LENT Sending to Babylon

11 I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
12 I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
13 Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?”
14 Thus says the Lord,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“For your sake I send to Babylon
and bring them all down as fugitives,
even the Chaldeans, in the ships in which they rejoice.
15 I am the Lord, your Holy One,
the Creator of Israel, your King.
(Isaiah 43:11-15 ESV)

What goes around, comes around. And as you sow, so shall you reap. My mother told me once she believes these things — that those who do evil in the world are eventually repaid their evil. A kind-of karma, if you will, that evens the world out, and make the world morally comprehensible.

I don’t believe these things. I haven’t since I was in the Army in Panama, where all sorts of shady and illegal and dangerous things were done by people in power, things that put a lot of people — a lot of soldiers — at risk. Of course, I was primed not to believe in anything resembling karma or just desserts or the coming around of things that go because too many people who have hurt me, who took joy in it and for whom it seemed their purpose, prospered, and probably slept happily, their dreams untroubled by my sorrow and my nightmares.

The same is true, sadly, today. People can hurt me, and they do, and nothing comes of it. They pay no price, suffer no consequences, feel no pangs of sorrow or conscience, lose no sleep. They are not caught and lectured or reprimanded or punished. Indeed, they are probably given medals and told, “Keep up the good work!” Dealing with me is probably akin to a burp or a sneeze, a minor inconvenience to be forgotten as soon as the moment passes.

No, what goes around most definitely does not come around.

God here is delivering Israel from exile. Raising Israel up from the living death that is their sorrow and mourning along the banks of the Tigris. God used Babylon to bring Israel low, the means of God’s wrath upon his faithless and idolatrous people. In the armies of Nebuchadnezzar is all the wrath and rage of God at a people who long before stopped being the grateful and humble recipients of God’s grace.

This is, however, only a temporary privilege, and Babylon too will pay the price for the destruction it has wrought, for carrying Israel into an exile where it could taunt and demand the Israelites sing them songs. Babylon itself faces conquest. And exile. Babylon faces judgment at the hands of the very instruments it once gloried in — armies, strength, power.

But is this what goes around comes around?

There are days I wish God would bring low some of those who have so harshly judged me. Who have cast me out, who have taunted and tormented and abused me. I’m not sure I want their suffering — I am too tenderhearted and kind for that — but I do want to know that somehow I matter enough to God that some kind of vengeance, some kind of price, is paid by a people willing to cast me out, to treat me as someone of no value. I don’t know if I would take joy in seeing that. But I want to know that I matter enough to God, to be worth the kind of recompense that looks like what goes around comes around.

Mostly I just want the casting out undone, though I know it can’t be and it won’t be. I am in exile. On the banks of the river. With a song of sorrow in my heart. Waiting for God’s deliverance. Waiting…

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