Sunday, 22 November 2020

Understanding Judgement - Ezekiel 6 & 7

We've all heard people say "Doesn't God want to judge us, or deal with us harshly?". They may quote or refer to a number of 'judgement passages' in the Bible. Today we look back in Ezekiel chapters 6 & 7 to look at the specific theme of judgement and how we might respond to such statements or questions in our witnessing.

Look through the two chapters yourself. You will find doom, disaster, economic woe, famine/sword/plague, and talk of bodies lying slain! Yes it is all there - described as 'God unleashing His anger', bringing judgement, and pouring out 'wrath'. Several times in the passage God says "I will not look on you with pity, I will not spare you' - so is there no way out? The fact is this kind of judgement stuff is in the Bible, and it makes gruesome reading.

As believers in Jesus the first for us in reading this is to always look at the context. This passage (as with the many others in Ezekiel) is aimed at the Israelites. These are a people who should have known better, who have gone against their calling, and have been active in their rejection of God. We are not talking just one slip up, but doing this year after year for a long time. Chapters 6 & 7 are addressed to these, not simply to 'anyone who might have done something wrong'.

Here is a thing: it seems to me that the majority of Bible 'judgement' passages are in this category, i.e. they are aimed at the Israelites in their rejection against God and the calling He put on their lives. That means that passages aimed at other peoples, or at people in general are therefore in the minority.

Now that minority does include some gruesome stuff. Check out chapters 38 & 39 that talk of a great battle, a final reckoning, with lots of blood and dead bodies (scenes echoed in Revelation end times visions). Yet look closer at those two chapters and realise the battle is with those who now come against the Lord's people. In other words even here there is a specific edge to it - the active rebellion against God, His purposes and His people. My conclusion is that few passages seem to be judgement on people generally, aiming at their everyday mistakes and mess.

Yet we should note the passages talk of God's 'anger' and that Bible word 'wrath'. Paul's letter to the Roman Christians uses the word, and here it is on people generally, i.e. people who don't know God and whose lives are in a mess. So I want to give my own definition of the 'wrath': "God's disgust at that which has become set against God". When you have a disgust at something, you naturally want to remove it or extinguish it. For example with 'that disgusting smell' you reach for the air freshener or open the windows! It is the same with God and His wrath: the disgust provokes and action in God to deal with it. Yet with God that dealing always has two possibilities: can it be redeemed, or must it be removed. You will find 'wrath' saved for that which resists all attempts or offers to redeem.

Furthermore, note that though wrath is described as 'poured out', it is always measured - the right amount and no more.

Back to Ezekiel chapters 6 & 7, notice in 6:8 the words: 'but I will spare some ... they will realise their mistakes, feel guilty about it ...', followed by the phrase 'and they will know that I am the Lord'. So in fact these chapters are not total wipe out. Furthermore the phrase 'they will know' is repeated several times - reflecting God's greater desire for people to know Him. Remember that when people 'know Him' there is no need for any wrath!

So we see that even with all this doom, woven into the visions is opportunity and promise for restoring. Remember the story of Jonah preaching doom to Nineveh: they repent and God does not bring the disaster. The story progresses to reveal that this was God's desire all along!

So for us as believers, let us understand that yes there is doom/judgement and gruesome wrath in Scripture, but that needs to be understood both in context and in balance with the rest of Scripture. This is a key principle: always weigh scripture with other scriptures, asking 'how does it fit into an overall scheme?'.

So turning to friends asking about judgement - my tip is first to acknowledge it, and then use different ways to get across the notion "but that's not the whole story ...". For example you might add to the conversation "have you heard or read about ...' and then mention one of the numerous stories of restoring or forgiveness.

With the Corona virus people may ask 'Is this a judgement specifically sent by God?'. I would answer clearly 'No!'. There is plague in the Bible, but they are specifically warned each for a specific context - we have had no such God-given indication for our context in today's life. However, ask the different question 'Is the Corona virus a wake-up call for all of us?', I would answer 'Yes!'. However it has come about, we can re-evaluate and learn what is important, and where to put our trust (advocating of course to put our trust in God).

God is a God of Love ... but also a God who loves justice and is perfectly just. So ultimately God will come against that which is wrong and dead set against His love. This He has to remove, for ultimately it disgusts God just as we should rightly be disgusted at injustice. Yet God is also able to restore and rebuild - to make new again. So our bigger message is always in the positive - that in God we can discover forgiveness, reconciliation, and re-building.

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