When we were kids, my parents took us to visit a cemetery.
It was in south Louisiana, where the water table is so high that holes will fill with water when you dig them. That meant by necessity, all the deceased were entombed in concrete, above ground.
At seven years old, I had never seen such a jungle gym for the dead. I and my younger siblings scattered and climbed up on those strange structures like a troop of escaped baboons. But when my dad saw us dancing up and down on someone’s great-great uncle, he’d had enough. We got a scolding, and a quickie lecture on why that kind of behavior was dishonoring to the dead.
There was apparently an appropriate etiquette to be shown to the remains of the departed. I found that concern incredibly odd, since I couldn’t see those people, and had never known them, nor did they probably care what I did to them now. After all, they were dead.
This kind of dynamic has occurred in other generations.
The prophet Isaiah played lecturing dad to his wayward nation, as he said, “Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isa. 1:3). They had engaged in empty worship, bribery, injustice, pagan practices, idolatry, and pride. The exasperated prophet said, “Their speech and their deeds are against the Lord, defying his glorious presence” (Isa. 3:8).
But like clueless children, the Israelites acted as if they had no idea what he was talking about. They couldn’t see anything particularly glorious about God, and with the exception of some handed down religion, had not known Him. Nor could they believe God cared about their bad behavior. Yahweh was, like all the other deities, probably off paying attention to more pressing concerns, like making crops grow. Why should they worry their heads over honoring something so inattentive, apathetic, and apparently dead?
Isaiah was the lone voice to the contrary:
“I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isa. 6:1-3).
Above the concerns of the day was a throne that represented the ultimate place of authority. The train of the Lord’s robe, that is, the fullness of His attributes, stretched down from heaven and filled the temple–the same temple the Israelites routinely dishonored. The “dead” God, was in fact, very much alive and present. Ironically, the people were the dead ones, insulated as they were within a sphere of personal blindness. And so, continuing on their oblivious self-centered trajectories, they missed the real show.
But Isaiah, the seer, the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, had caught sight of it, and been rattled to the core. He was filled with emotions ranging from inspiration, to terror, and so cried out, “Woe is me!” (v. 5). To him, this vision was the biggest thing ever.
That’s what happens when you’re willing to see.