Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Your god is an egotist! (Trinitarian reflections on Ezekiel 36)

"DEMANDING WORSHIP MAKES GOD EGOTISTIC". 
It's a common enough charge. How self-important and self-centred a deity to want people to worship him and to smite them if they don't. No wonder his people are forever turning to other gods? These questions arise in Ezekiel 36. The nations of the world are mocking because of the exile of the Jews from the land - they're mocking the god of Israel. And his response is to act to vindicate "my holy name". Who is this god?

He is the LORD, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who has loved Israel when she was a nobody and made her somebody, it was he who beautified and clothed her only to see her whore after anything and everything instead of returning love to him. The exile of his people from the land he'd given to them was the ultimate sanction after generations of deep patience... it was his jealous love burning against them. Now, just as if he'd destroyed his people after bringing them out of Egypt, when they made and worshipped the golden calf, his reputation is at stake. The unfaithfulness of the people of the LORD causes the greatest tensions in history, his love - stronger than death - cannot just overlook sin but if he burns against them his love stands in question. The tension gets ever stronger until we reach the summit of Mt. Calvary.

Here He says (v22) - "I am about to act". The phrase "I will" recurs throughout Ezekiel 36. He will vindicate "my holy name" (v22,23) so that the nations will know that "I am the LORD". This will emphatically be "not for your sake" to Israel - v22 & v32. How does the LORD vindicate his name? How does he act for his own glory? How does he clear his name?

v24-28 he will take, gather, bring and clean his people, giving them a new heart, putting his Spirit within them, bringing them to dwell in the land, to "be my people" once more, delivering them, summoning the grain, ending famine. That's a lavish display of love towards them - though the fruit wont be that they feel special, this isn't for their sake - they'll be confounded and ashamed of their sin. While the nations will know that "I am the LORD" (v36) - though even then Israel as "my people" can ask of their God for life and they'll receive it - and will also know "I am the LORD". They'll have a home, be alive, regenerate, clean, fruitful and they will know the LORD. Know him, like a bride knows her husband. 

The LORD is being true to himself in relation to his people and the nations and this issues in his action of lavish salvific love, loving in every way even to make his home with and in his people. The greatest display of the holy name of the LORD comes in his great love for people undeserving people (and it take very little work to see that what's described in Ezekiel 36 is the salvation that Jesus speaks of through water and the Spirit and his lifting up to die in John 3). The LORD pursues his glory by loving his people - because the LORD is a God of self-giving love.

We tend to think that God showing himself amazing is to show off his attributes and resources but when the LORD vindicates his holy name it is by the display of his self-giving love, at the cross. He isn't contingent upon us for this - for he is from eternity a community of self-giving love involving three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A cold and lonely deity who demanded worship would be an egoist, but this LORD calls forth worship as he invites us to participate in his life. Why wouldn't they come and partake in the Triune community of love?

It's not glory instead of love. The people aren't ultimate but are humbled and loved. It's not love instead of glory. The LORD can't be untrue to himself, nor need he. This is glory by loving - the glory of love... that saves his exiled bride and brings her again to know his love through the cross, inviting all nations to come and participate in his love. What would be egoism in a lonely god is lavish love when it comes from the Triune God.


These are draft thoughts ahead of preaching Ezekiel 36 in a few weeks - your thoughts very much sought...

9 comments:

  1. I don't think you're addressing the challenge.

    This is what I wrote on it a couple of years ago...

    "God is internally, and self-sufficiently other centred. Love is the deepest answer to the question: How should we live? The grounding force of other centred love is the correct foundation and motive for the moral will.

    Such a deep answer, and a foundation of true altruism is simply unavailable, to a non-Triune Godhead. Consider that if we asked the question: Did Allah need to create human beings to love? The answer is necessarily affirmative. And this is a serious problem for the Islamic concept of god, who in himself is non relational and therefore unable to partake, self-sufficiently in something that is clearly a virtue. Allah is a dry and loveless God, needing to create another to have a conversation, or to love. The Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit could answer negatively. Indeed the Bible says, 'God is Love,' and this makes perfect sense, when we consider the love relationship that the Trinity is. It is also the motif for us, giving us, a model, in the centre of our worldview that accords with the altruistic summary of the law that Jesus gives (Mark 12:28-38). We can see therefore that the Trinitarian God is not guilty of egoism. He doesn't fundamentally exist or act in a self-centred, or self-benefiting way as a maxim for conduct. It is fair, to acknowledge that where ignorance of a deeper understanding of the Trinity might exist, there also might be some traction for the objection. The facts however do not bear out the sceptical case here.
    In conclusion then, the doctrine of the Trinity, solves the specific challenge by showing that God is not self-centred but other centred. Each member of the Trinity lifts up, reveals and glorifies the others. We have said already that this is utterly unique, and so we note that without sacrificing the unity of God, it is likely that God would be an egoist if he were not a Trinity. God is not an egoist, because He is a Trinity. In this, we have a model for our behaviour and conduct, coming under God's rule and giving him the glory in our own lives. But there is much here that is veiled for us. Grudem writes, 'It is spiritually healthy for us to acknowledge openly that God's very being is far greater than we can ever comprehend. This humbles us before God and draws us to worship him without reservation.'

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  2. oh, and I think it's egoism, rather than egotism

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  3. Dave - love it! And you bring us to the cross too, which I'm sure Tom was getting around to in his response. Not just trinity but also the saving events of the gospel are needed for a good answer to this question. Otherwise you might just have other-centred Persons but a self-centred Being called Trinity who is still over against His creation in a holy huddle.

    But instead, at the cross we see Life poured out for the world. From Father to Son (John 3:35) and from Son to world (John 3:16). The trinity is even other-centred with respect to creation - loving us more than Himself even!

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  4. Tom - I might not quite be, but this is primarily trying to preach Ezekiel 36 so that limits me somewhat - but I do want to engage more with Islam as part of my approach. Really helpful to have your thoughts.

    Glen - thanks for the affirmation. Still need more help on it. Was pondering buying Robert Jenson's Ezekiel commentary cos I figured he'd be helpful... but its kinda pricey!

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  5. I have nothing profound to say, I just like it a lot.

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  6. I agree Glen. Thanks for the nuance. I would add that to my reply.

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  7. I'm glad I've got three weeks before preaching this, and I'm glad to have you three (and anyone else who wants to) to interact with. No where near there yet.

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  8. A couple of thoughts just occur to me:

    Leviticus has lots of stuff on profaning the holy name. It seems a particularly priestly failure for Israel when they should be lifting high the Name to the nations (Ex 19; Deut 4). The LORD will therefore have to act as His own Prophet and Priest by summing up Israel as its Davidide King and sanctifying it before the world's eyes. Verses 20-24 are so specific on defining the sin as profanation in the eyes of the *nations*. Again it's priestly failure.

    It strikes me that the LORD acts to vindicate His name not in isolation - but as a witness to the *world* as to what kind of LORD He is (see esp v23). So it's not simply a case of "Not Israel-centred, therefore God-centred" but also "Not Israel-centred because world-concerned"

    And when you realize that *this* is what reveals His name you see a LORD not simply concerned to redeem a particular people but also to reach the world.

    Glen

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  9. It all feels very like the LORD's conversations with Moses in Exodus 32-33... how will we know... what will the nations say... this is all very familiar.

    More Triune is more attractive, more loving, more missional... more glorious.

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