Loving in the Forgiveness of God

We seem to be under the misapprehension that Ezekiel's job is a common one. That it is a weight laid upon our shoulders. That when God says "If I tell you, and you don't tell them, and they die, it's your fault," God has in fact already told us using the words of the Bible. And so we come to believe that forgiveness is conditioned on repentance, and repentance is conditioned on doing what the Bible says. How else could we understand the contemporary Christian reaction that confuses conformity to the gospel with heterosexuality and a particular view of marriage? And that's just one example, even if it is awfully popular today. We have become sentinels, yes -- but sentinels against our own people. Sentinels against one another. We have ceased to be a people. Instead, we have become sentinels gathering together to condemn the remnant of Israel, whom we have left, thinking that we can take the name and blessing of Israel with us. And we leave under the assumption that we have been faithful, and that if the faithful separate themselves from impurity, we will be saved. That if we have given the warning, we have no other obligations to our own brothers and sisters. That if we at least tried, we can be done now.

Ah, but we have misunderstood three things here: repentance, prophecy, and the people of God. How? We have forgotten that all three stand under the umbrella of God's forgiveness.

"Say to them, 'As I live,' says the Lord God, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. No; it pleases Me that the wicked should turn from their ways and live. So turn back! Return from your evil ways -- for why will you die, O house of Israel?'" But what is this turning? Should we turn from one evil way to another? Of course not. We should turn from evil ways to good ones! But is that it? Is Ezekiel sent to warn Israel to do good deeds and not bad ones? Will that get them out of the exile? Can there be good deeds in separation from God?

Of course not. But that's exactly the point. At the very beginning, God tells Ezekiel, "How should it be that if I sent you to them, they would not listen to you? But the house of Israel will not wish to listen to you, because it does not please them to listen to Me." And so God stops up Ezekiel's mouth, shutting up inside of him all of Ezekiel's own words, and only frees his tongue to speak the words God will give. This is standard stuff -- you'll find it in Jeremiah as well. And like Jeremiah, God places Ezekiel among the people, his own people speaking his own language. God places him with them, in the midst of their captivity and their suffering. The prophet stands with us in the depths of the despair that makes us cry out, "We waste away because of our wanderings and our failures -- how can we live?!" The prophet stands here with us because this is where God is.

And the word of God to Ezekiel goes on. And God shows us that our good deeds are only a hair's breadth different from our bad ones, and just how easily we turn from one to the other. This is not repentance: that we choose to do something good, to do this and not that. This is not what God asks. We do not die because we choose that, and we do not live because we choose this. We live because the Living God is with us. We live because God lives with us; and living with us, God makes us people of right relationships, living with one another. Because God who created us all, provides for us and sustains us all. Because of this we may suffer anything at the hands of the world. Our life, from beginning to end, is in the hands of the God who cares for us.

So: what is the prophet's job? The prophet is a sign of the presence of God among the people. The prophet becomes God's guiding voice in the midst of the people, because the prophet has been placed in direct, conversational relationship with her Lord. Because God has taken hold of the chin of the prophet, and God's forehead rests upon hers, nose to nose, eyes to eyes, mouth to mouth, so that the prophet sees and hears and speaks only in relationship with God. Ah, but this is not horrible, this intimacy with our creator -- the horrible thing is to look away, to look at the world and to see the places and the ways we have made ourselves comfortable looking anywhere but God. Many people pretend to this horror, because we are uncomfortable with our neighbors. Because we have corrections we would dearly love to give to the world around us. This, dear people, is not prophecy. Sin is not behavior I disagree with. A prophet may be given scolding words as part of their prophetic work, but our condemnation of one another is not prophecy.

Vanishingly few among us are called to be prophets. And yet we have been called into intimate relationship with God. The Spirit of God rests upon each of us. We know that presence of God with us in the presence of Jesus, the Son of the Father, whose eyes were God's eyes, whose ears were God's ears, whose hands were God's hands, whose mouth was God's mouth. Whose broken body, and whose shed blood, make us whole. Whose resurrection is a sign that God does not leave us, even in death. That there is, in fact, no end to the presence of God with us.

So if that is true, and we are not prophets, how should we behave with our neighbors as people of God? What does the scripture say? Correct your disputes charitably. Privately if at all possible, but if not, then with the help of neighbors who are also people of God. If, as fellow people of God, you cannot resolve your disagreement amicably, you may separate from one another -- but you all remain people of God. However we associate, and however we dissociate, God is with us all. Whether we take correction from one another, or whether we disagree about what is right, God is with us all. Any two or three of you may be a community of the people of God, and God will be with you. Why? Because all of this -- your forgiveness of one another and your free association with one another -- stands under the forgiveness of God. None of you will be lost to God, no matter what you do -- though you may suffer more or less depending on how the world receives your actions.

And it pleases God to have us act like all of this is true -- because it is! And so Paul says to us, "Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another. For the one who loves the other" -- the one who is not your own, the one who is different from you -- "has fulfilled Torah." And again, "Love does no harm to the neighbor -- which is why love is the fullness of Torah." No matter what else changes, this is your way of life: God is with you, and you are neighbors, and the rightness of your relationships is the simple fact that they are made of nothing but love. Because this is true, we are allowed to agree and disagree, but no matter what we do, nothing can separate any of us from the love of God.

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