It was in the year King Uzziah died that I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. (Isaiah 6:1 NLT)

10444504_sI write this column with a heavy heart. A number of church buildings in Malaysia were bombed last night. One caught fire though the damage was controlled and no lives were lost. This is the latest incident in the escalation of tensions over the Malaysian government’s banning of Christians from using the word “Allah” to refer to God. Christians in Malaysia, particularly those from East Malaysia, have been using “Allah” as a name of God for hundreds of years. It is an Arabic word that pre-dates Islam. Most Muslim scholars allow the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, to use the word to refer to God. Now the government says that, in the Malaysian context, “Allah” is exclusive to Islam. (Our neighbour, Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, have no problems with Christians using the name “Allah.”

Pushed against the wall, a Roman Catholic paper took the government to court, arguing that constitutionally the government could not ban non-Muslim religions from using the name “Allah.” The Malaysian High Court ruled in their favour. The government is appealing against this decision and also managed to get a stay of execution on the ruling. That means the ban stays for now. Meanwhile, certain Muslims groups have been protesting against the High Court’s decision. (It must be said that many Muslims are also disturbed by the protests and the bombings.) And now church buildings have been bombed. My heart is very heavy.

Originally I had planned to write my first column of the year based on reflections on Isaiah’s call in Isaiah 6: 1-13. I was wondering if I should now write a different column in response to the deteriorating situation in Malaysia. On further reflection, I decided that Isaiah 6:1-13 was precisely the passage for the hour. Here are some lessons for all of us.

1. We put our trust in God to save us.

“In the year that King Uzziah died . . .”

King Uzziah was a good king who did much to improve the lot of Judah. But he was mortal. He died. So while we encourage all good people to stand up and be counted in this dark hour, our ultimate trust is in God almighty. Even the best of us will fail. God will never fail. It is a time for faith and hope. And our faith and hope are in the Lord.

2. God is sovereign.

He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple.

None of what has happened has taken God by surprise. He has allowed it. He is still on His throne. He is still working out His purposes in history. We need not and we must not be shaken. Our God is a big God. He is bigger than all that is transpiring. He will work things out. He will bring good out of evil. And we are His.

3. God is holy.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
The whole earth is filled with his glory!

God is utterly holy. Evil will not triumph in the end. We have no inkling of the awesomeness of God’s holiness. The shaking of the Temple foundations and the filling of the Temple with smoke were merely hints of a mighty God that cannot be trifled with. He cares more about justice and compassion than we will ever do. We need not doubt that evil will fail in the end.

4. We must first take responsibility for our own sin.

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips.”

When we have been the victims of evil, we tend to think of those who have hurt us as evil and ourselves as good. In doing so we will find it hard to “love our enemies” and we become blind to our own sin. The evil is not just “out there.” It is first and foremost in our own hearts. Let us deal with our own sin first.

5. We must ask God what He would have us do.

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.”

This is a confusing time with a cacophony of voices telling us what we should do. And then there are the voices of fear and hatred. We need to hear and attend to one voice only— the voice of our Lord and our Father. “Father what would you have us do at this time?” “Tell us and we will do it.” It is as simple as that. God is speaking. We need to quieten our spirits and listen. In good times and bad, our primary call is to hear and obey.

Sometimes this comes with a price. Here is a later passage from Isaiah:

The Sovereign Lord has given me his words of wisdom,
so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
and opens my understanding to his will.

The Sovereign Lord has spoken to me,
and I have listened.
I have not rebelled or turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me
and my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard.
I did not hide my face
from mockery and spitting.

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore, I have set my face like a stone,
determined to do his will.
And I know that I will not be put to shame.
(Isaiah 50:4-7 NLT)

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced.” Come, now is the time to worship.