I love learning about humanity’s attempts to travel into space, and one of the common elements of space travel is…delays. The astronauts go through all kinds of training, and then NASA sets the launch day. They say goodbye to their family, get suited up, excitedly enter the spacecraft, and then NASA scrubs the launch. The weather isn’t right, a part of the rocket tests faulty…there are a million reasons for a delay. But one by one the problems are solved, the weather clears up, and even if they wait a few weeks, they do eventually launch.
Imagine what it would feel like, though, if NASA astronauts got ready every day, but every day NASA delayed the launch saying, “Just one more day, then we’ll be ready”? Think about how those astronauts would feel. After a couple weeks, they would surely be getting antsy and frustrated. What if it went on for months? Would they quit? Would they start thinking, “NASA is lying to us. NASA is screwing up something.”? I wouldn’t fault them if they said, “I’m done. This is never going to happen.” Maybe you know the feeling of waiting and longing, but the thing you’re hoping for never happens.
Please open your Bible to Ezekiel 12. There we’ll meet people who thought Ezekiel’s prophesies were never going to happen. Ezekiel once said the end is near. Remember that in Ezekiel chapter 7? He made a big bold prediction of disaster. But nothing happened. Was Ezekiel’s prophecy false? Read Ezekiel 12, verses 1-2.
In verse 1 we see what has become a familiar phrase in our study of Ezekiel, “The word of the Lord came to me.” That phrase indicates God is now speaking, and we read in verse 1 a message from the Lord that is also familiar: the people are rebellious. From Ezekiel’s initial encounter with God at the beginning of the book, these were nearly the first words out of God’s mouth: Israel was rebellious, clearly demonstrated by their practice of idolatry, selfish greed, and injustice. Notice, though, how God describes this in verse 2: They have eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear.
This is quite a vivid image. Think about people who are blind and deaf. For people who have one impairment or the other, life is difficult. They must learn how to live without one of those senses, and it is amazing how they adapt. It is also wonderful how people over the years have developed systems, technology, and medical answers to assist those who are hearing impaired or blind. But consider what it would be like to be both deaf and blind. Imagine how difficult it would be to communicate. Still a deaf and blind person can learn to communicate. They must overcome a significant challenge, but they can be in relationship with people and experience a full life. Physical deafness and blindness are not what God is talking about, though.
In verse 2, God is talking about people who chose to be blind and deaf. God says that the Jews are in that situation because they chose to be rebellious. Those Jews are not physically impaired. They are spiritually impaired, and worse, they embraced it. From God’s perspective, his people cannot see him or hear him, because they have chosen to abandon him. They have turned their backs on him. They are giving God the silent treatment, the cold shoulder.
God is saying that his beloved, his chosen people, the Jews, were closing their eyes and covering the ears and saying, “I can’t hear you! I can’t see you!” whenever he spoke. And yet at the same time, they are uncovering their ears and opening their eyes in pursuit of pagan gods. You can see why God feels like you might feel when your friend or spouse is icy cold, not communicating, but running with joy to another person. Do you feel God’s pain?
Years ago I to an event with a close friend, and at the event we bumped into a person my friend knew. In what felt like a sudden shift, my friend focused his attention on the other person, for hours, and I felt excluded. God is telling Ezekiel that he feels excluded. But notice the surprising way God responds to the cold shoulder. When people give us the cold shoulder, we feel hurt, upset, and we can get angry or bitter. How does God respond? God does not close his eyes and cover his ears. He continues to call out for the people, and he does so through Ezekiel, and through another strange skit. In the next post, we’ll learn how God responds through the skit.
For now, consider this: if you cannot see or hear God, is it possible that he is still reaching out to you? Is it possible that you cannot see or hear him because you have closed yourself off to him? It seems to me that when we feel like we cannot hear or see God, we assume that he has left us. But what if it the truth is the opposite? What if it is we who have covered our ears and closed our eyes, running towards other things?