Does God feel distant, or have you wondered if God is just a thing of the past? Maybe he wasn’t even real back then? While the stories of God’s work in the past sound great, and might even be encouraging and inspiring, what we really want is for God to show up in our lives now. Ever thought something like that?
We can be battling all sorts of issues in our lives, frustrated because the issues linger and linger and don’t seem to get resolved. We might have a health struggle that persists, even after seeing doctors, getting treatment, trying medications, having surgeries, and still we don’t feel right. We might have years upon years of just barely making it financially, and the day comes when we pay off a loan, super excited to have some extra cash each month, only to have the car break down. Right on the heels of paying off one loan, we have to start another. It might be a relationship that has been difficult for years. The person in your family or friend group that gets under your skin and you’ve tried to deal with it, but to little avail. What is the struggle in your life? In the middle of those struggles, we don’t want to hear, “God is there for you, and we know this because of the great things he did in the past.” We want to hear and know is that, “God is there for you, and we know this because of how he is doing great things right now.”
As we study the prophet Ezekiel, we find him addressing that concern through one of the repeated phrases God gives him: “I am Yahweh.” Do you remember what or who Yahweh is? It is the actual name of God. It is translated as “I am” or “I am what I am” or “I will be what I will be.” Through Ezekiel, God is declaring to the people of Israel that, though they had been enticed to follow and worship foreign false gods, he, Yahweh, will be making it clear to all that he is the one true God. Remember that the people are hearing this while they are in exile. Especially because they were exiled, even though it was because of their unfaithfulness, they could still be wondering if their God, Yahweh, is the one true God. All those stories from centuries before, especially when he freed their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, sound great. But that’s ancient history. Are those stories even true? What if all that was made up?
Ezekiel tells the exiles in Babylon, exiles who are wondering if Yahweh is real, wondering if God is who he says he is, that God is actually at work right here, right now. This is a reminder that can be so helpful to us as well. God IS at work now. God IS alive and well. Let us tell the stories of how we see God at work in our world. Please comment below with your stories.
When I hear that the exiles likely questioned God, I think, “What right do those people have to question if God is who he said he is?” The Israelites were disobedient to God. They broke the covenant between themselves and God. It wasn’t God who denied them. The people of Israel are at fault, so they don’t have any right to question God. Still God says to them “You will know, all will know, that I am Yahweh.” It reminds me of Paul’s words to Timothy that even when we are faithless, God is faithful, because he cannot deny himself. That’s a powerful thought. We need to dwell on that. God is faithful, because he cannot deny himself. We will know that God is God.
Though God is absolutely faithful in the midst of our faithlessness, that doesn’t mean he ignores the fact of our faithlessness. What we will see is that God’s message through Ezekiel is aware, very aware, of Israel’s sin, of the fact that Israel broke the covenant between God and Israel. Therefore, Ezekiel’s prophetic message will call Israel out over and over throughout the book, focusing on two main sins.
First, we will hear that the people committed idolatry, the worship of false gods. That will give us ample time to consider what idolatry might look like in our day and age. Do we American Christians practice idolatry? Absolutely. Of course we don’t want to hear that we might be idolaters, but we need to hear it. So let us be teachable and humble and receptive to how this message might relate to us.
Next, God’s message through Ezekiel calls out injustice. I know that the word “social justice” has taken on a political tone in our culture. But the reality is that God has a heart for justice, and that will be very clear in Ezekiel. Remember that God wanted his people to be a blessing to whole world (see the first post in this five-part blog series introducing Ezekiel). When the people of God blessed the world, the world would get to know the righteous heart of God, and justice would increase. Sadly, what happened in Israel was they sometimes treated people with injustice, such as when Solomon used slaves to build buildings. As we learn about God’s heart for justice, we will strive to apply it to our day and age.
I remember coming home from a mission trip to Chicago in the summer of 2010. There we worked with our sister church, Kimball Ave, as they taught about God’s heart for justice in the big city, and how they were striving to apply it. In Chicago there was injustice, seemingly, at every corner. Poverty, Hunger, homelessness, violence, corruption, and on and on. Back here in Conestoga Valley, though, there is gorgeous farmland and wealthy suburbs, all in an excellent school district. It doesn’t seem like there is injustice. As the months and years went by, we kept looking, and we found it. There is homelessness, poverty, some racial injustice, broken families, and more. Its why we work with CVCCS, its why we help with their summer lunch club, and why we help fight injustice in our community. Because it flows from God’s heart for righteousness and justice.
Ezekiel will be a wonderful guide to us continue to pursue God’s heart of righteousness and justice, reminding us that he is at work even now.