Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.—Isaiah 55:7–9
When it comes to the difference between God’s thoughts and our thoughts, what does Isaiah want us to understand by comparing it to the difference between the heavens and the earth? So are my ways higher, says the Lord. Like so. Like how? Yes, we know that the atmosphere is distinct from the terra firma in terms of altitude, but surely that is not what this text means—that God does his thinking up where the air is icy cold and oxygen is thin, or that our thoughts are identical to his thoughts except that he thinks them from a location of so many miles up. So to say that his thoughts are higher is not to make reference to geographical and aeronautical coordinates.
So what does it mean to say that his thoughts are high?
The height of God’s thoughts compared to man’s thoughts is not like the comparative distance of a short man compared to a tall man, or even of an anthill compared to Mount Everest. It is the distance between the thoughts of an ant and of a man. The distance between an eagle and a snake is not so many feet of altitude, but that one slithers and one soars. It’s not that God’s horse can jump higher than our horse, but that his horse has wings! The height of God’s thoughts puts them in a different category than man’s thoughts, though man’s thoughts are like God’s thoughts in that they are both thoughts.
Further, the height of God’s thoughts makes them different from our thoughts in terms of power, like high winds have more power than calm winds. His thoughts are not empty musings. When he thinks them, things inevitably come to pass. In contrast, we think things that never come to pass—whether worries or aspirations. We awaken from outrageous and bizarre dreams, excursions into strange and ridiculous fantasies; I would suggest that God has never had a dream. His thoughts comprise reality.
In addition, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts in that they are more important. Ours yield to his. This observation flows directly out of the previous paragraph. Our thoughts, plans, and estimations of things defer to his. His thoughts are the decisive ones. In the courts of thinking, his thoughts are the Supreme Court.
Not only are his thoughts higher than our thoughts in terms of force or brilliance, but of moral uprightness. The lofty and undefiled nature of his righteous thoughts stands them in stark contrast to our own murky, corrupted, and parochial preoccupations. His thoughts have never been mistaken (mathematically, historically, factually) and have never been wrong (evil, vile, tainted). That’s why the text above exhorts the unrighteous man to forsake his thoughts. And when it exhorts the wicked man to forsake his ways, it’s because God is compassionate, willing, and ready to abundantly pardon. That is, God thinks in terms of grace while the wicked man thinks in terms of the merit of his own works.
Grace, as a way of thinking, is high, very high. It is the high noon of thinking, for it is rooted in the justification of God that overflows in gifts to his creatures that are downright luxurious.
God’s thoughts are therefore high in another way: They are conspicuous. God’s thoughts are conspicuous in their distinct contrast from all other thinking. His thoughts are not run of the mill. Because of the way he thinks, Christianity alone is a religion of grace not works, substitution not liability, atonement not penance.
God’s gracious, merciful, atoning thoughts are high because they are centered in Christ, giving him in all things pre-eminence. That’s high all the time everywhere.
Pondering his thoughts with you,