In politics, rational discussion may be an idea past its prime. Reasoning together about social issues has become more pretense than inquiry, and its end winning rather than discovering.
But what about in religion? After all, this invitation comes from the Bible (Isaiah 1:18), and the prophet who issued it did so not on behalf of himself, but of God.
There are other ways of translating his key word than by “reason.” “Talk things over,” for one. The prophet himself seems to have meant something like “argue it out.”
By whatever rendering, though, the invitation has a promising sound to it. It suggests that in matters of faith, disputes can and should be approached with an openness to others’ opinions and a hope for peaceable resolution. The idea is to resist the impulse to judge and condemn, and to respect disagreements about divine precepts as normal features of religious life.
Unhappily, however, this not what either Isaiah or his God seems to have had in mind. “Come now…” is not an invitation. It is a summons. And its aim is not to initiate a conversation. It is to convey a demand to accept the divine judgment that has already been passed on us.
There is no hint in this verse that God was envisioning anything like a real give and take. Or that he might have been genuinely open to considering that at least some of his peoples’ actions were not what they appeared to be. Or that it could have been helpful to listen to what they had to say before passing judgment on them.
One of the biggest problems with religion is that it all too often posits a God who is beyond being reasoned with on human terms. We can reason with each other, but with God we are to succumb numbly to his defining our reality on his own terms exclusively.
That doesn’t make for much of an invitation to genuine dialogue. If God has already judged us to be in the wrong, what is there to talk about at all?
But what if God’s mind were not as closed as Isaiah thought it was? What if God genuinely expects to learn more about us by listening to us? Particularly when we question whether his threats are the best way to make us better people.