Tuesday, April 27, 2010

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

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...