Formations 07.02.2023: Rock Bottom

Isaiah 1:1-9, 16-20

Twelve-step programs talk about hitting rock bottom. It’s assumed that alcoholics, drug addicts, and those who manifest other self-destructive behaviors won’t change or even want to change until the pain of using becomes greater than the pain of not using. Once they’ve hit rock bottom, perhaps they can finally begin the road to recovery.

Rock bottom is when it is no longer possible to pretend things are better than they are, or that they won’t keep getting worse if left to themselves. Most addicts in recovery have a pretty good idea of just when they hit rock bottom, and there’s usually a dramatic story attached involving jail, an accident, or the loss of a job or a relationship. But the drama isn’t the point. What matters is the change that can happen afterward. In the words of one recovery web site, “The bad clears out enough junk for the good to have a chance.”

I don’t know if the nation of Judah had hit rock bottom as the book of Isaiah opens. As far as the prophet is concerned, however, things don’t look good. The Assyrian threat looms on the horizon, and apparently there have already been signs of national collapse. The country lies desolate, and the cities have been burned (Isa 1:7). How long can this go on?

Isaiah portrays Israel as a rebellious child that keeps rejecting the parental love that God offers them. It has gotten to the point that they seem to crave further distress. “Why do you seek further beatings?” he asks, “Why do you continue to rebel?” (v. 5). Their sin has wounded them from head to foot. They have to recognize that they’re sick and need healing.

Thankfully, the passage—much less the book—doesn’t end there. Beginning in verse 16, Isaiah gives his people some specific instructions about how they can turn things around. He challenges them to take stock of their desperate situation and turn back to God. Mercy is still available, and though their sins are like scarlet, they can be washed clean (v. 18).

“Hitting Rock Bottom,” <>.


• What is your experience with “hitting rock bottom”? How can such an experience open the door to a better life?
• In what sense can our misfortunes be a wake-up call to amend our ways? Does this mean God “sends” these calamities our way? Explain.
• What tangible steps can we take to overcome our sinful inclinations?
• How can we hear Isaiah’s words today?
• What does this passage say about human sin and the possibility of redemption?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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