As I read through Ezekiel, I find myself caught up short. The vivid imagery is strange and wild, violent and varied. Yet for all the variety of imagery, the theme repeats over and over again to a people in exile: God cannot tolerate their rebellion. They have given themselves heart and soul over and over to the false gods of the surrounding nations, and their morality has subsequently wandered far from the faithfulness to God they promised on the eastern shore of the Red Sea.
It seems safer to think of God as unemotional in all of this; he is holy and the people are not, so he must therefore purge unholiness from all that is his for the sake of his great name. Yet one can hardly read Ezekiel and think that God is not emotionally invested in Israel. He is dreadfully angry and sad and disappointed and sickened by Israel’s unfaithfulness.
After reading several hundred pages of Scripture about several hundred years of Israel’s rebellion and God’s promises to put an end to it all, I begin to wonder what’s taking so long. However, as I read Ezekiel’s writing, the vastness of God as Father comes into focus for me.
I am the father of three young children: 9, 7, and 3. There is no greater source of joy or frustration in my life than these three children. The depth of joy I get when one of them runs up to my car when I get home from work, jumping in my lap with a tight hug before I can even turn off the ignition, is incomparable. I love seeing them enjoy a puzzle solved, a concept grasped, a book finished, a goal scored.
And yet these treasures of mine, these apples of my eye, are incessantly rebellious. Meltdowns are frequent and intense. Selfish fighting and unnecessarily harsh words undercut our constant instruction and desperate parental pleas for compliance and reason. My blood pressure rises and my temper flares.
Promises to behave are followed immediately by the same misbehavior. Honestly, do they just think I’m talking to hear myself talk?! Wait, didn’t my parents used to say that to me?
Before I had children, I judged incredulously those who would talk about the fantasy of just driving away. Now, well, I feel ya. (And we won’t have teenagers for another four years!)
Nevertheless, it is impossible for me to think of my children ever reaching a level of rebellion that would close my heart to them. I can imagine, as they get older, letting them reap dramatic consequences for dramatic rebellion. And I can imagine being dreadfully angry and sad and disappointed and sickened by bad choices that rebelled against what I taught them.
But I cannot imagine, as their father, ever burning the bridge or desiring that they not come back to me. I love them.
I have three children and have been a parent for nine years. As I read Ezekiel, I am reminded that God had millions of children over hundreds of generations. I am beginning to see that I cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of his sadness, his frustration, his anger, or his kind mercy and love.
He is the father of the Prodigal Son, many billions of times over, the father who had every right to end it all for sinners, yet never gave up on his children, never burned the bridge. He loves us!
There is still accountability, but the judgment deserved by billions he took upon himself: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
For me, the magnitude of Jesus’ sacrifice, and therefore the magnitude of his holy qualification to be that sacrifice, has come clearer for me in this reading of Ezekiel. I am aware of my deserved place under the judgment seat, and thankful to be among those who he has forgiven by his grace and mercy on the cross.