Many of us have rightly been taught that God is transcendent, that He is apart from and over His creation. The discussion about God’s transcendence has often been connected to the idea that God is without emotion or unaffected by His creatures. I have a hard time seeing that when I look at the repeated refrain on the lips of the Old Testament prophets. God, speaking by way of them, tells His people in no uncertain terms that He is deeply affected by their hypocrisy. The height of hypocrisy is pretending to offer worship to the living God, before Whom all things are naked and exposed, and thinking that somehow He doesn’t connect the dots. Israel and Judah were, nonetheless, famous for doing just that. They conducted themselves in their daily lives in a manner that was far from righteous and yet they had the gall to show up for church and pretend to be someone else. God, through the prophets, calls them on it. A great example of this is Amos 5. Here are verses 21-24 but the whole chapter is revealing:
I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The obvious point seems to be that our sacred gatherings are offensive to the Almighty when we have glaring issues of social injustice among us. Our worship is in vain. God is not hearing us. He cannot support our conspiracy. He is bound to the truth regarding our real situation. What kinds of things were getting in the way of a real relationship with YHWH? Isaiah gives us a clue in chapter one of his prophecy:
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers,
children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Why will you still be struck down? Why will you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but bruises and sores
and raw wounds; they are not pressed out or bound up or softened with oil.
Your country lies desolate; your cities are burned with fire;
in your very presenceforeigners devour your land; it is desolate, as overthrown by foreigners.
And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard, like a lodge in a cucumber field,
like a besieged city.
If the LORD of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been like Sodom,
and become like Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom!
Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!
“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.
“When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts?
Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations—
I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.
Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.
. . .
How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
This is the context of the famous passage where God holds out the promise of restoration. If only the people would stop playing the game and come clean with Him, they could be cleansed [Isa. 1:18].
Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
they shall become like wool.
When are we going to wake up and realize that God is wholly unimpressed with our religious displays. He is not only not delighted by them, He says that He can’t stand them. They frustrate Him in a way that is required of One who watches over the body of Christ, sees the way we actually treat one another, and then observes our juvenile attempts to pretend that we have done nothing wrong. We are like children, hiding behind our own hands, bloodied as they are, thinking that He can’t see us. When will we learn how deeply our hypocrisy affects the living God?