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Ezekiel 5-9

08.17.2010

Today’s section of Ezekiel contains some hard-to-swallow imagery of God’s wrath.  In Chapter 5, he promises to bring pestilence, fire, plague, famine, violence, and even cannibalism upon His people.  Chapter 9 describes a truly chilling scene in which Zeke is given a vision of six angels carrying out God’s order to slay the people in and around the temple back in Jerusalem on account of their idolatry and then pile up the corpses as a monument to their sinfulness and to God’s justice and wrath. 

This is hard to reconcile with the loving God that we worship.  From our perspective, it seems like overkill almost to the level of being unhinged.  A father who wants to punish and discipline a rebellious child takes priveleges away or even spanks, he doesn’t butcher the child and hold it up as an example to others.  Such a father would be criminally insane.  How then is our Father not criminally insane?

I don’t have a point-by-point proof to demonstrate that He is not a monster, but I obviously do not think that He is (or else this blog would have a very different tone to it). 

One image that I find helpful is that God punishes sin, not necessarily sinners.  Think of sin as being contained in a big box.  As fallen humans, we like to climb in the box every so often and wallow around in the muck.  But there comes a time when God says, ‘Everyone out of the box!’ because He’s going to destroy the sin by (say) throwing the box in the incinerator.  Through His grace, He offers His hand to pull out anyone who wants to get out of the box.  Those that reject this offer choose to continue wallowing in the sin.  Accordingly, they are punished/destroyed/incinerated with the sin that they cling to.  I don’t know that this is a theologically valid image of God’s wrath and judgment, but until I am convinced otherwise, I turn to this as an explanation for the kinds of horrors depicted in Ezekiel 5 and 9.

The image, furthermore, leads to the second way of understanding how God can be so holy, just, and wrathful and yet so loving at the same time.  Key to the analogy of the box is the free will of people to get out of the box or stay in.  The people cannot climb out of the box themselves, the sides are too high and they’re all slimy from the muck/sin they’ve been wallowing in (to continue the metaphor).  But they can choose to take God up on his offer to lift them out.  God does not scoop out those that choose to stay.  The crucial factor is their choice. 

If there were no choice in the matter, it would be a lot harder to see God as loving.  When I was expounding on my strict deterministic worldview, a question I often got was, ‘How can a loving God create people who He condemns from the outset by not giving them the free will to repent and accept salvation?’  This is a compelling question, ever more so with the imagery of today’s passage in mind.  I recognize that I may be demanding God comply with my conception of justice here, but I must admit that I can’t see how God could be loving if He created people with no chance of redemption.  Only free will can allow God’s justice and wrath towards sin to coexist with his love and grace. 

Tav

9:7 | Incidentally, Zeke’s vision also contains a seventh angel who is commissioned to go around the people before the slaughter and make a mark on the foreheads of those people who have resisted and decried the idolatry.  The study Bible notes that this ‘mark’ is the Hebrew tav, which looks like our ‘X’.  Many Christian analyses of this see the angel’s mark as the sign of the cross.

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