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Ezekiel 22:17-24:14

08.22.2010

God is enumerating the sins of Judah here, explaining why His treatment of the city and the people is just.

22:26 | A specific complaint of God’s here is that the people did not know how to distinguish between that which is holy and that which is common, or between that which is clean and that which is unclean.  As a result, the holy and clean had become profaned.  This was the major lesson behind all of the rituals and laws of the Old Testament.  God gave them to Israel to instruct them in the difference between holy and common, clean and unclean.  God is holy, and the definition of holy is ‘set apart.’  By definition, God is set apart from that which is common, sinful, unclean.  By forgetting that very distinction, Israel was forgetting who God is.  This is the context in which God ends all of His visions in this book with the phrase, ‘and you shall know I am the Lord.’  God wants His people to know Him.

22:29 | Another of Judah’s sins is that the rich were oppressing and extorting the poor.  I am more and more convinced that this sin comes as a direct result of the one above.  Despite what our culture maintains, we cannot separate moral behavior and love for our neighbors from acknowledging and loving God.  If God is love, then our ability to genuinely love one another comes from Him.  When we disconnect ourselves from Him, ‘love’ for our neighbors becomes superficial.  Maybe it makes us feel good about ourselves; maybe it’s a sense of duty; maybe there’s enlightened self interest bound up either in reciprocity or in peace from contributing to the general welfare.  But none of those things are love.  They are effects of love, not causes.  When we put the cart before the horse like that, we lose the ability to steer correctly and stay on the road (to stretch the metaphor to its limit).  Soon, our fallen nature takes over, and we start to treat one another according to fear, insecurity, prejudice.  Ultimately we objectify our neighbors and treat them as tools or obstacles in our pursuit of pleasure.  Staying connected to God, knowing that He is holy and set apart, worshiping Him:  these things allow us to act with genuine love to our neighbors and the less fortunate.

23:9 | In His larger oracle about the two sisters, representing Samaria and Jerusalem, God again uses language of abandoning people to their sinful desires as a punishment in itself:

Therefore I delivered her into the hands of her lovers, into the hands of the Assyrians, after whom she lusted.

It’s another example of God punishing us by giving us what we wish for.  Since I mentioned John Piper yesterday, this is of a piece, I think, with the message of his ministry.  His most famous book, Desiring God, is subtitled, Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.  By this he means that God’s ultimate desire for our lives is for us to be happy.  All too often, we view a godly life as being devoid of pleasure or excitement or fun, but that’s because our perspective is so limited.  We want the freedom to pursue immediate gratification in the form of over-indulgence, amassing of wealth and toys, a life of casual sex, etc.  God doesn’t want to deny us the pleasure we would get from those things; He just knows that the promises of those lifestyles are ultimately hollow.  They offer a fleeting pleasure at the price of much pain, hurt, confusion, and emptiness.

Under this paradigm, when we sin, we’re not breaking an arbitrary code called ‘holiness.’  We’re choosing the lesser experience, choosing that which brings less joy and more pain.  This gets back to the essence of the first verse I cited above.  God wants His people to be able to distinguish that which is holy from that which isn’t.  He provides the Law, standards of behavior, to aid us in that process.

God’s holiness and God’s love and joy and peace are not separate facets of His character.  They are the same.  Choosing that which is holy is choosing that which brings the most joy and peace.  Demanding of us that we choose the holy over the common or the unclean is an act of God’s love.  In our fallen, selfish mindsets, we see it as restrictive, sour, and a killjoy.  But that’s getting it exactly backwards.

But this is where the awful responsibility of free will comes in.  God can, and does, guide our choices and place limits on our behavior to direct us toward making healthy choices with our lives.  He wants us to choose what’s good, what’s holy.  He wants us to choose Him.  But he also wants us to choose Him, which means that we’re free to make the other choice, to pick that which is common over that which is set apart and perfect.  At some point, after making that same poor choice over and over, God is willing to let us have our wish.  This is His greatest punishment, I think.  By letting us choose not to be with Him, we end up where He is not.  And if He is love, peace, kindness, joy, etc., by definition, we will be without those things.  That is hell as I understand it: the ultimate other choice, the only other alternative after we have rejected His grace, His presence, Him.

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