Ah, at last we find a brief oasis from the dire verbiage of Ezekiel thus far. Here in Ezekiel chapter 14 (the first half) things finally come back to home….so to speak. At least, Ezekiel has concluded his visions about Jerusalem and is now sitting in his house in an interview with the local Elders of Israel in their shared captivity in Babylon. What, pray tell, could be on their minds?
Imagine you are captive in a foreign land, and you keep hearing from this new prophet with exotic visions that the destruction of your homeland, and everything you are familiar with is a done deal. Two options come to mind. 1) Fine! just plug in to the local religions/cults and get back to normal, or 2) Totally freak-out and feel lost with no connection to what you believe is true. What do you do?
Ezekiel receives a vision from God answering these very human states and it is here that we become familiar with some interesting expressions: “Idols of the heart” and “Stumbling blocks before their face”. Rather interesting.
Idols are static representations of human projections of affectionate fervor. We have these around today, no need to look very far. We even make fun of it with expressions such as “Teen idol”, or “I have a relationship with my phone”, or “my car is my baby”. These things are not God and do not have the capacity to LOVE YOU BACK.
The elders of Israel in captivity turn out to be just as human as you and I find ourselves, beset by the same doubts and longings for better times. They fall prey to the same things that make us stumble. And here is the Spark of Hope I mentioned in the title.
God say to Ezekiel, “I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel,…” Hearts is the word used here. Not mindless obedience and not fearful subservience. God, the creator of us all, it would seem, wants His people to respond to Him out of genuine affection and love for the principles He has brought out through the course of these visions. Fraudulent religious posturing, hypocritical lip service, lack of charity, absence of mercy, no social justice; these are all symptoms of what God did not want and still does not want.
What a mission statement then, for our creator on high: To recapture their hearts away from the idols they worship. And to this, Ezekiel is told to proclaim a message that is much like an open door to a people who have been chased away from everything that was most familiar. It is a simple message, and one that has been echoed by every prophet. It is the olive branch offered to a headstrong people, it is the ray of hope that all is not lost entirely – that there is still yet a way back held open for the willing.
“Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices……”
What are idols again? Things not of God, but made of Man, things that do not LOVE YOU BACK. Things that demand and require all of your energy, but only give you the appearance of a soulful relationship with your creator. Sadly, idols can appear both outside of religious structure and worse, inside the very walls of churches as we see them today. Idolatry happened back in Chapter 8 in the very temple of God,…what would make us so very different today in our high-tech multi-media church buildings made of drywall and fine art?
So ask yourself, in what you do everyday, to the things you pour all of your love and energy into, whether it is church related or not, does it heal your soul? does is LOVE YOU BACK? Does it engage your heart with Charity, Mercy, and Social Justice? or…does it require fearful adherance, subserviance, and mindless obediance? It’s hard to admit these things and it’s even harder to let go. I’ve had to face my own idols and come to the conclusion that a great many of them come from my own integration of the expectation of other people’s desires into some core religious and philosophical ideas. I know this sounds vague, but it true for me. All I can say is that idols come in all forms, figures, places, times and appearances. but the true temple of God, ….your heart and my heart….must be swept clean of all of them. And about those people who can do that, God tells Ezekiel, “They will be my people, and I will be their God….”
Keep trying, Keep trying. This chapter, the first half of Ezekiel ch 14 vs 1-11 is a voice of counsel that it is never too late, especially to those who’ve had their lives completely turned upside down, and where nothing seems to make sense, and where everything that was familiar is now gone. There is one who stays with us, way out here in open country.