Is it possible God is so emotional that he would weep? Is it possible that he cares about his reputation? I think so.
In the previous post we talked about how repeated says in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 that he is zealous for his holy name. What “zealous for his holy name” means is that he wanted everyone to know that he was holy. But why would God be so concerned about his reputation? Isn’t it obvious that God is holy, the one true God?
Maybe to us it is. But who God is would not be obvious to the people in Ezekiel’s day. Why not? Because powerful countries like Assyria and Babylon had just invaded Israel multiple times, and in the end, Babylon destroyed the city of Jerusalem, burned down the temple, and sent the Jews into exile. When you look at the utter defeat of the people of Israel, consider what the status of God’s reputation would have been? God’s people, the people who are called by his name, have been soundly defeated. That defeat gives all the nations very reliable evidence to conclude that Israel’s God is not powerful, and thus not holy. It seemed that Israel’s God was no match for the Babylonians, and therefore, it would be entirely reasonable for the people in Ezekiel’s village, and for people all over the ancient near east to conclude that Israel’s God was weak at best, and false at worst. Do you see how God’s reputation has been seriously damaged?
Here’s the thing, God’s reputation is not just about his ability to win a military war. There is a much more important side to his reputation, that of his truth and righteousness and justice. God’s reputation is also connected to his claim that God’s way of life is the best possible way of life. In being zealous for his reputation, God also wants to protect the truth about his way of life. He went to great pains to give Israel his Law, which describes in detail the righteous and just way of life that he wanted them to live. Starting with their ancestor Abraham, they were to be a blessing to the whole world, living faithfully in obedience to God’s way, and thus showing the rest of the world how to be in relationship with God and live his way. If Israel could do that, if they could live his ways and help others do the same, they would make an astonishing impact on the rest of the world. That would put not just Israel in relationship with God, but a whole lot more people in relationship with God. That would put not just Israel living the way of righteousness and justice, but the rest of the world could experience God’s blessed life of righteousness and justice.
But that didn’t happen. Israel chose to turn away from God, worshiping foreign false gods and living in wickedness and injustice. Israel’s choice to live selfishly did not just impact them. Their selfish, disobedient lives had the disastrous ramification of making it next to impossible for the rest of the world to know the truth about God. Do you see the result of this?
Do you think the people like the Babylonians invaded Israel, saw how the people of Israel were living their lives, which was totally not in line with God’s ways, and thought, “Oh I want to know the Israelites’ God and follow his ways.” Of course not. Instead the Babylonians thought, “These Israelites don’t even follow their God’s ways. We just totally defeated them. So their God must have been false.” In the end, God’s reputation was in shambles. God’s heart was grieving because he desires a relationship with all people, but no one, not even his own people were following his ways. They showed that they did not think he was worth following. Imagine how it must have felt to be God.
I want us to take a moment and think about God weeping over his ruined reputation in Israel’s day. Is it possible God is weeping over Christians now. Have we done anything to give God a bad reputation in our culture? In our nation, I think of slavery and white supremacy and how that continues to lead to racial injustice in our land. It is fascinating to me that enslaved Africans eventually took on the Christianity of their wicked masters who were living in direct contradiction to the way of Jesus, which is acutely obvious when the masters enslaved other humans and often beat them. Some enslaved people endured this and responded, “If this is what Christianity results in, I want nothing to do with it.” Thankfully, and amazing, many enslaved people took the beatings, worked under horrid conditions and still said, “The Christianity of my master is not the Christianity of Jesus. I like Jesus and the teaching of the New Testament. Jesus suffered too.” In fact, it is astounding to me how many enslaved persons practiced a much purer form of Christianity than did their masters. I think it is highly possible that some masters and owners were actually not Christians, though they claimed to be, and though they went to church faithfully, while the enslaved people were genuine Christians, though they were not allowed to set foot in the church, and instead had to meet in hiding, in secret. As Jesus taught, by their fruit you will know them. Which group could it be said had the fruit of the Spirit flowing from their lives?
But you say, that was 150 years ago. What about now? Are there any ways in which we, though we claim to be Christians, are living in opposition to the way of Jesus? Are there any ways in which we are sullying his name and reputation?
Check back into the next post as we’ll find out.
Photo by Danie Franco on Unsplash