Editor’s Note: I’m thankful to guest blogger Brandon Hershey for this week’s study of Ezekiel 18!
How can God be both loving and just at the same time? Doesn’t it seem that his love will cancel out his justice, or that his justice will cancel out his love?
As we continue studying Ezekiel 18, we see not only God’s heart for the oppressed, but also God’s heart for redemption. Are they balanced? Read verses 21-32.
In these verses, we see God’s perfect justice balanced with his perfect love. Ezekiel makes it clear that redemption is possible for anyone. Even someone who has turned away from God and is living a “wicked” life, can make the decision to turn from his sins and start following God. Verse 22 tells us that none of the sins of his past will be remembered. Instead, because of the righteous things he has done, he will live. Ezekiel also makes it clear that God desires this kind of life transformation.
Two rhetorical questions in verse 23 make this point clear. God asks, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” The obvious answer to this question is, “no, of course not”. Again, God rhetorically asks, “Am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live? The obvious answer to this question is, “Yes, of course I’m pleased when people turn from evil ways and pursue the abundant life!” Make no mistake about it, our God is not some kind of sadistic God who takes pleasure in seeing wicked people suffer for their actions. He is not sitting around hoping he can show off his righteous judgment for those who do evil. On the contrary, he deeply longs for everyone to turn from the evil things in their life, to stop making excuses, and to follow him. This is precisely what he wanted from the exiles living in Babylon. And it is precisely what he longs for each one of us. In this passionate longing for redemption for everyone, God displays his perfect love.
At the same time, God’s perfect love does not negate his perfect justice. Even a righteous person who commits sins and is unfaithful to God will surely experience the consequences of his sin. He doesn’t get a “Get out of jail, free” card because he did righteous things in his past. No, God says that none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered because of his unfaithfulness. As much as God longs for everyone to seek him and his righteousness, he is not willing to take a blind eye toward the sin in our lives. So while God’s perfect love longs for redemption, God’s perfect justice demands a penalty.
The people of Judah must be having trouble understanding exactly how God could so perfectly love his people at the same time that he so perfectly demands justice for their sin because in verse 25 and again in verse 29 they say, “The way of the Lord is not just.” They seem to be complaining that God is not being fair, almost like a toddler who is throwing a temper tantrum when he is being punished. Both times, God throws it back at them saying, “Is it not your ways that are unjust?” The reality is, God is fair! We just don’t always like it when we must experience the consequences of our sin.
As we have seen time and time again throughout Ezekiel and throughout the history of Israel, Ezekiel concludes his message from God with a hopeful message of redemption. Look again at verse 30: “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord.” Because God’s justice is perfect, God tells the people of Judah that they will be judged according to their actions. They cannot escape God’s judgment. We cannot escape God’s judgment. Although that doesn’t sound too hopeful, the good news is that because of God’s perfect love, he longs for us to repent and live. You can feel God pleading with the people of Judah to stop making excuses, to accept personal responsibility, to rid themselves of their offenses, to get a new heart and a new spirit so that they can truly live!