I haven't read this book before but what Ortlund said made me think.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story of the controlling power of shame.Ortlund gave an exposition of the passages on Babylon, Edom and Tyre. Babylon was a "desert off the sea", a play of words on utter wilderness. Edom was silent with not a single word of hope and Tyre was seductive, a prostitute out hustling the nations. Judgement will be upon these nations.
In Puritan Boston the minister, Mr. Dimmesdale, commits adultery with Hester Prynne. She bears a child, and the community ostracizes her by sentencing her to wear a scarlet A, for “Adulteress,” the rest of her life. Her sin is made obvious to all. But Mr. Dimmesdale conceals his sin. He keeps up an appearance of rectitude, but within he is tortured with guilt. After seven years he finally makes a dramatic public confession, tearing open his shirt to reveal his own scarlet A etched into his very flesh, infinitely more painful than Hester’s embroidered accusation.
What saddens me when I read The Scarlet Letter is that no one in this story understands redemption. No one understands that public disgrace has no benefit and that private hypocrisy only binds us to our sins. No one in this story has hope, because no one sees how God is able to create beauty out of the wreckage we create. The place where sin enters in is where God himself enters in with redeeming grace. When I read this book I wish I could step inside it and say to Mr. Dimmesdale and Hester and everyone there, “It doesn’t have to be like this.” But I can say to you, “It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to be controlled by shame and hypocrisy. Your past is unchangeable in fact but beautiful in potential, because there is a Redeemer.”
Isaiah is teaching us to see with prophetic eyes. He wants to give us a sense of God as we live in this world...He sees a redeeming God at work in a deeply troubled world.
Ortlund then says:
Everyone has something to be ashamed of. But God is a Redeemer. He wants us to become his pure bride in the New Jerusalem. The only thing is, we cannot retain our shame and hypocrisy. No unclean thing enters there. The shame that has defined us must be redeemed. And our stories of despair can be lifted into his story of redemption. Every last petty souvenir of Tyre can be redeemed into something beautiful for God.It is definitely easier said than done. If I use the same example Ortlund used, adultery, it is amongst the most hurtful and shameful sin which causes broken lives and broken relationships. Don't think that you are above it, that you are strong enough to avert adultery, that it will never happen to you. We are weak, and only in God can we be strong.
But even in the ugliness of sin, there is hope in our God who redeems.
We will still face our past and its consequences but our God is the Redeemer and we the redeemed. "Every last petty souvenir of Tyre can be redeemed into something beautiful for God."
Source: Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., R.Kent Hughes, General Editor