“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:6-10).
I admit that this passage from Isaiah sounds a bit fanciful given the current state of our world. We’re much more apt to take sides as the wolf and the lamb face off. We’re more comfortable with policy decisions that help us avoid the terrible truth that the leopard and the kid lie down together only when one feasts on the bones of the other. Our world is situated such that only dewy-eyed romantics and ungrounded idealists ever really believe that a little child will actually lead this unlikely menagerie—especially when we see the cold, hard facts.
And the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the wolf and the lamb actually living together, we main-line Protestants are often the least likely to share the same space in peace. Speaking about the relative lack of mixed-race congregations, Nancy T. Ammerman said, “Mainline folks, for all their talk about diversity, lag significantly behind.” The charge, of course, is that we who are the putative gatekeepers of the “true faith” are much better at talking the talk, than walking the walk.
Implied in that indictment against main-liners, however, is the notion that somehow talking the talk isn’t that important. But I would like to suggest that it is impossible finally to walk the walk, if nobody has told us where to go. Somebody has to hold forth a bold vision of what we believe life will look like under the reign of God when it is fully revealed. Somebody has to talk bigger than we are, or we’ll have nowhere to reach. Somebody has to dream about wolves and lambs and leopards and kids, or the world will begin to think that its animosity is normal, natural. Somebody has to talk about how God doesn’t think that the hostility that exists between the strong and the weak, between the haves and have-nots, between the powerful and powerless is either normal or natural.
And just because we haven’t gotten it right yet, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t stand up and talk about what right is. Just because it sounds simple or naive to announce a rapprochement between the lion and the ox, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold that in front of us as God’s view of reality. Just because bears still kill cows when they inhabit the same space, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t press on toward a vision in which they graze the same fields in peace.
We can, of course, never be excused from trying to get it right. Living with a vision requires no less. What we can be excused from is thinking that it’s somehow our responsibility to get it right. Because when the reign of God is finally realized, it won’t be because we made it happen. It will be because we left ourselves open to the movement of the Holy Spirit and to a vision of what God believes life is really like. Lord knows, somebody better keep talking that talk.
“On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the people; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isa. 11:10).