This week in Ezekiel chapter 24, we’ve learned at least two important things about God’s heart. First, his desire for holiness, and in particular, how that relates to human sexuality. Second, his desire for us to trust him when it seems he has allowed something terribly unfair in our lives, in particular the death of a loved one. Let’s talk a bit more about each of those topics.
First, trusting God in the realm of human sexuality. This can be a tricky one because Christians have so many opinions about what holiness should look like in our sexual choices. What we saw here in Ezekiel 24 is that God wants his people to steer clear of lewdness and fornication. The traditional interpretation says that sexual expression is to be reserved only for marriage between one man and one woman who make a lifelong commitment to one another. This marriage is not a government-designated union. In other words, you don’t need a marriage license for biblical marriage. Instead biblical marriage occurs when one man and one woman make a covenant with each other before God, committing to a lifelong relationship of love. It is within that relationship, and that relationship only, that God says human sexuality is to be expressed. But that is the traditional interpretation of God’s desire, and some in our culture have a very different viewpoint on sexuality. How do we respond? Can we trust God, believing that the traditional interpretation represents our best interest? Is it even a matter of trust? Or am I practicing unnecessary hermeneutics? Can we practice faithful Christianity without holding to a traditional sexual ethic? I think we can. The interpretation of God’s sexual ethic does not seem to me to a first order belief, meaning that I do not believe it is a doctrine that is necessary for salvation, for people to have a real relationship with God. And yet I would suggest that we can trust that the traditional interpretation is in the best interest of humanity. I could certainly be wrong about that. I continue to hold to the traditional viewpoint, though, even after thorough study of other hermeneutical possibilities, because I believe it best represents God’s heart. Consider listening to this podcast interview with Bridget Eileen Rivera who is a gay Christian that holds to the traditional interpretation of sexual ethics. She does an excellent job explaining how she can be both gay and Christian, with a traditional sexual ethic. I’m looking forward to reading her book to learn more.
I hold to the traditional view because I believe it is the faithful interpretation of the many biblical teachings on the subject. Sexual expression is a wonderful aspect of oneness between husband and wife, helping to strengthen their union not only physically, but also emotionally and relationally. This is why Paul in 1st Corinthians 6 says we should never experience that bond with a prostitute, because it is a uniquely deep, inward bond.
Even within the traditional interpretation, I admit that I’ve opened the door to a bunch of complicated questions. Can a man and a woman kiss when they are dating? What kinds of clothing styles are appropriate for men and women to wear? Can a man and woman who are not married be alone together? What about a business that requires mixed gender co-workers to travel together? Is it okay to watch TV shows, movies, or read books, that depict sexual ethics that are different from God’s view of holiness? How much should Christians try to make their country’s laws in line with God’s view of holiness? These are very difficult questions to answer, and Christians have many disagreements. Christians in the same church family will likely have strong opinions about how to answer these questions, and their answers are different!
My encouragement is this. Practice holiness. Make holiness your passion. Avoid legalism, and share loving grace with one another when you differ. Maintaining a loving relationship with people, even toward those with whom you disagree, is far more important than having precise agreement about difficult questions.
The second thing we can learn about God’s heart is how to handle pain and loss, especially the death of a loved one. In Ezekiel 24, this topic stems from another difficult question: did God kill Ezekiel’s wife? As I said in the previous post, we don’t know. What we do know is that it is very emotionally painful when it seems like God is not fair, especially when we lose a loved one too soon. Billy Joel once sang, “Only the good die young,” which sounds helpful, but it’s not true. Both good and bad people die young and old. What we need to remember in the midst of our confusion and sadness, in the midst of our pain, while we’re mourning the loss of a loved one, is that we can always trust in God. The loss of his wife was almost certainly very difficult for Ezekiel. Worse, if the only reason she died was so Ezekiel could live out a prophecy for his neighbors, essentially become a living message for his neighbors, that is brutal. That is so hard to understand. I personally don’t like it. But even that doesn’t mean that God is a monster. We can always trust in God, even when we disagree with him, even when we don’t understand what is going on. His heart is true. His heart is love. He wants to be known.
Trust in God is not always easy. Especially when the world around us says that following God’s way is ridiculous. Trusting in God is also not easy when we’re experiencing painful loss. But remember that even in the midst of the difficulty, God wants to be known. He wants to be with us in the midst of anything difficult.