We are reading through Ezekiel right now in our Bible Reading Plan. It’s hard to read Ezekiel at 6 in the morning, when I do my reading. I’m guessing it’s hard to read anytime. The stuff in Ezekiel is freaky! Faces and wheels and eyeballs and abominations. It sounds like a horror movie trailer that I would hide my eyes from (which, in case you want to know, I did this past weekend at the movies.) I think if it weren’t for the fact that Ezekiel knew that it was God speaking to him through all of these visions, he might have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. There’s sure a lot of trembling going on…
Chris Howell did a great blog post at From Garden to City’s website about today’s reading, and I must say, I am shamelessly proud of the fact that the passage he refers to in his post is the exact passage that I highlighted in my Bible this morning. Perhaps it’s because it’s the only sliver of hope in the trenches of darkness so far. In Ezekiel’s vision, God says,
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. They they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people and I will be their God.” Ezekiel 11:19-20
To understand the background and implications of this passage, read Chris’ post, he does a really good job. I had a couple thoughts as well.
1. God MOVES
To piggyback off of Chris, God is saying here that he is removing his Spirit and his glory from the temple, as a punishment to the wickedness of the people. It’s frightfully sad, but at the same time, a glimpse into God’s plan of putting his Spirit within us (stone vs. flesh).
This was a huge theme for our group that went to Israel back in May. On the first full day we were there, visiting a lot of the holy sites in Jerusalem, I felt that it was almost plastered on the ancient walls – “He’s not here! He’s in your hearts!” I think most of us were so thankful when we all felt that, especially because then it took off the pressure of having a “religious experience” just because of where we were. I don’t want to water down the immense significance of actually being in Jerusalem and Israel, but when you go there and observe the other religions and their rituals, you see how Christianity is very starkly contrasted. I’m just celebrating that. How amazing is it that God made a way for us to worship Him and accept the gift of grace – thanks to Jesus – without having to live in a certain place, dress or look a certain way, or be of certain rank or standing? Amen.
2. God RESTORES
“They will be my people and I will be their God.” I googled to see how many times this sentence is in the Bible, with no luck. (Google fail?!) But it’s in there. A lot. God says this many times while he is guiding Israel. It’s interesting that this statement can have different inflections. You can read it from the perspective of fatherly pride, or a firm reminder, or a sweet promise, or a call to responsiblity. I think in this instance, it’s God reaffirming the people that things will be restored as they once were. It will be different, but a new normal. Because he is a God of justice, he must punish his chosen people for their iniquities – send them into exile. But he’s not giving up on them. If I were in the middle of calamity and eyeballs and abominations, but then I heard this clear promise cutting through the darkness, this familiar reassurance of God’s faithfulness, I think I would sleep better at night. I would know everything’s going to be okay.
*Interesting factoid about me – if you’re around me, you’ll know I’m doing okay if I sing. I sing often to myself. If I am not singing, then there’s something stirring inside me that’s causing the equilibrium to be off. If there’s something wrong, I don’t feel like singing, I don’t want to sing. I happened to think of this when I was hashing out this restoration idea. Restoration of my general metaphysical health is complete when you hear me singing again.
3. God allows you to SUFFER
Ouch, but isn’t God a loving God? How could he do that? I think this is the most asked question regarding God, and the least answerable. If we were never in pain, we would never grow, we would never learn from our mistakes. We would never build our character. (Don’t you think sometimes you’ve built enough character though? Ha.)
This week God has sent me one of those cosmic coincidence packages – you know where you tend to gain a lot of wisdom on one aspect of life in a short short time – so much so that it seems strange that it keeps coming up and you can’t help but look up in the sky with a raised eyebrow? For me, that package is SUFFERING. Yay. I can’t say that I’m actually suffering, especially when you look around the world at the hunger, wars, floods, etc. But suffering is a part of life, and I think God is using right now to teach me about it.
Going back to my last point, God must punish us when we do wrong. Life needs order, and wickedness must pay a price. Lucky for us, our God is a loving God, who gave us a way to not only pay for our wrongs, but we didn’t even have to do it! AND – we get to spend eternity with Him. That’s a pretty sweet deal. I think, in light of those circumstances, suffering a bit would almost be expected. Life is hard, God isn’t going to make it easier, He’s going to make it livable. Suffering sucks, and it comes on all different levels. The smallest suffering is annoying, and the big stuff is almost suffocating. But tell me a time when you suffered and didn’t learn something. Tell me a time when you suffered and God wasn’t there to hold you. And restore you.
Here’s a couple gems I’ve read about suffering lately:
“I have learned to kiss the wave that strikes me against the Rock of Ages.” Charles Spurgeon
“Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” CS Lewis
“Choosing to suffer means that there must be something wrong with you, but choosing God’s will— even if it means you will suffer— is something very different. No normal, healthy saint ever chooses suffering; he simply chooses God’s will, just as Jesus did, whether it means suffering or not. And no saint should ever dare to interfere with the lesson of suffering being taught in another saint’s life.” Oswald Chambers (I think it would be worth it to read Chambers’ entire entry on suffering.)
You will suffer in this life, but God is moving, and He will restore you. AND – when Jesus comes back, and all of the suffering is done on this side of eternity, we will be permanently restored, and there will be no more suffering.