Christianity 201

June 8, 2016

Where is God When Life is a Mess? Ezekiel Knows!

•••by Clarke Dixon

With the world in a mess, and even our own lives sometimes in a mess, we might well wonder; “where is God?” If God is truly in our world, shouldn’t things be better by now? Is God weak? Or perhaps the powers of darkness are stronger? In Ezekiel’s day the people of God could wonder the very same thing for they were in a mess. Ezekiel was among a group of 10,000 people or so who were taken into captivity from Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Things were not looking good back in Jerusalem and in another five years the city would be completely destroyed along with the Temple. Was God weak? Were the gods of the Babylonians stronger? If God’s house is destroyed is He gone? Ezekiel is called to bring some clarity to the situation. His summary of the first vision is given in verse 28 of the first chapter:

Like the bow in a cloud on a rainy day, such was the appearance of the splendour all around. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of someone speaking. . . (Ezekiel 1:28 italics mine)

So what clarity does Ezekiel bring?

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we learn that the glory of God is indescribable and incomparable.  God’s people in captivity would have been reminded by Ezekiel’s first vision of the religions around them. The Babylonians, like most nations of the day, but unlike God’s people of Israel, had statues and idols representing their gods. As Bible scholars point out, through the vision the Lord is drawing a contrast between Himself and the gods of the Babylonians. The statues of the Babylonians were lifeless, in contrast to the “living creatures” (verses 5,13,14,15,19,20,21,22) of Ezekiel’s vision which point to the living God. The statues could not see, in contrast to the many eyes, representing the all seeing nature of God. The statues could be destroyed, in contrast to the fire in Ezekiel’s vision, showing that God is the one who has the capacity to destroy and is not Himself consumed. The statues were stuck wherever humans put them whereas in Ezekiel’s vision there are many wheels and free movement. God is not stuck and will go where He wants to go! That God is alive, all seeing, the indestructible destroyer, and has the capacity of presence anywhere and everywhere is all part of the glory of God in direct contrast to the gods of Babylon.

So what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with O people of God. God is alive, all-seeing, powerful, and present. You are not in a mess because God is weak, or because the gods of Babylon are strong.” This is a good reminder for us when our world is in a mess, or when our lives are in a mess. It is not because God is weak, or because the powers of this world have any power over God.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is terrifying. While the smallest of animals and the weirdest of bugs can scatter a room of humans, four creatures are seen which must have struck terror. Notice also the noise:

24 When they moved, I heard the sound of their wings like the sound of mighty waters, like the thunder of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army; when they stopped, they let down their wings. (Ezekiel 1:24)

The noise is part of the terror for anyone who has lived through a tornado, or stood next to a railway crossing for a fast moving train with horns at full blast. This was not just a vision, but an experience for Ezekiel, a frightening one. The people of God in Babylon have good reason for fear; God is a God of judgement. They are not in captivity because God is weak or the gods of Babylon are stronger. They are there because they are reaping what they have sown. The glory of God is terrifying because the justice of God is perfect.

Where is God When Life is a MessSo what is being clarified here? We could sum it up with “People of God, examine yourselves and see why you are in a mess. Not because God is weak, or because the Babylonian gods are stronger, but because you have been in rebellion against God.” This will be a theme of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And this is a good reminder to us also; every mess has sin behind it somewhere, even if indirectly.

In reading Ezekiel chapter one we also learn that the glory of God is comforting. Think of Genesis chapter 3 where Adam and Eve experienced the consequence of their sin in being banished from the Garden of Eden. It is an amazing fact the Bible does not end there, indeed that is only the beginning. Adam and Eve go on to experience the presence of God. In addition to experiencing the consequence of their sin, they go on to experience the consequence of God’s love. Life in the presence of God goes on! Likewise, in Ezekiel the people of God experience the consequence of the sin of the nation, yet God is present with them in captivity! That the Temple might be destroyed is not of great consequence to God. He can be anywhere and there is nowhere He would rather be than with His people. That was the point of the Temple in the fist place. His presence is an expression of His love, whether at the Temple in Jerusalem, or in captivity in Babylon.

After seeing and experiencing the creatures, the wheels, and the fiery figure on the throne Ezekiel mentions a rainbow as part of his summary in verse 28. This was a reminder of God’s covenant promises. Yes, God’s people would suffer the consequences of not keeping their covenant promises, but yes, God was still faithful and would continue to keep His covenant promises.

So what is being clarified here? We could summarize it with “O people of God, despite the fact you are reaping what you have sown, there will be a future.” This is a good reminder for us, that when our lives get in a mess, even when it is a mess of our own making, God will love us through the mess. He remains faithful.

One last thought on Ezekiel chapter 1. There is a similar vision in Revelation chapters 4 and 5 where the glory of God is seen again. The themes of justice and mercy running through Ezekiel’s prophecy point forward to God’s perfect justice and perfect love coming together in Christ Jesus, “the Lamb that was slain”. At the end of his vision Ezekiel fell flat on his face. At the sight of Jesus in the vision from Revelation the elders fall down to worship. Falling on our faces is still the appropriate response to the glory of God. As the writer of Hebrews says about Jesus:

He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)

Yes the world can get messy. But God is not weak. Neither is His love.

(Scripture references are taken from the NRSV)


Clarke Dixon is a Canadian pastor whose writing you can check out at this link.

November 9, 2013

Practical Christian Living: Walking With God

Walking With God from Sermonview dot com

Last week we shared a short excerpt from David Murray’s excellent book, Jesus on Every Page. Today, I happened to visit David’s blog at HeadHeartHand.org and discovered the piece which follows here. There isn’t a key scripture verse today, you need to look up the references. You are strongly encouraged to read this reprint from an article David did for a Reformed periodical, at source, where it appeared as Walking With God In Everyday Life.

The Bible says that “the Lord was with” Abraham, Joseph, David, and Hezekiah. We’re also told that Enoch and Noah “walked with God.” These are two sides of the one coin, two perspectives on the same experience of God’s special presence with His people.

This was a gracious experience. Humanity had severed itself from God by sin, but God in mercy came down to humanity again to reconcile, to re-establish, to re-connect, and to re-commune. These were all sinners separated from God by sin, and distant from God by nature. Yet God drew near to them, drew them to Himself, and filled them with His own presence. By God’s gift of faith in the coming Messiah, these Old Testament believers experienced forgiveness of their sin and God’s love shed abroad in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. The Lord who had been against them was now with them.

This was a spiritual experience. If you looked at Enoch or David you would not have seen another physical figure with them. God was not with them physically. He was with them spiritually. By His indwelling Holy Spirit, God connected and communed with these men. The “withness” was a spiritual “withness.”

This was a personal experience. It wasn’t “the force” that was with them, but a person. It was not some impersonal power but someone with a character, a personality, a will, an ability to communicate, etc. As such, there was a sharing of personal thoughts, feelings, plans, hopes, etc. There was conversation between the Lord and those He was with. We don’t know how much the Old Testament believers understood of God being three persons, but they certainly knew a personal God.

This was a transforming experience. God cannot be with someone without it making a difference in their lives. Enoch and Noah stood out from everyone else in their generation. Heathen kings and officials, like Abimelech and Potiphar, noticed a difference in those that God was with (Gen. 21:22; 26:28; 39:3). God’s presence produced inner qualities of holiness, peace, contentment, and courage. In the Old Testament it was also associated with outward prosperity and success (e.g. Gen. 39:2-3; 1 Sam. 18:14; 2 Kings 18:7).

This was an enjoyable experience. This was not some unwanted and terrifying invasion of these men’s lives. No, this was the God who was their best friend, coming to walk with them through life’s journey. What a wonderful experience, especially when these men were often so otherwise alone in their spiritual pilgrimage!

This was a varied experience. Though God never leaves any believer in whom he has come to live, there are times when he withdraws the sense of His presence, the feeling of his nearness. For example, we’re told that God left Hezekiah to test him (2 Chron. 32:21). That cannot mean  God was with him one day and gone the next. Rather, it means that at this time Hezekiah did not have the conscious sense of God’s presence. God was there, but he was silent and still. Yes, the Spirit could be grieved in the Old Testament too, and such painful times taught these men how much they needed God’s active presence in their lives.

It was an everywhere experience. It was not confined to the Temple or Tabernacle, but God was with His people in building projects, in prison, on the throne, and on the farm. Wherever they went, whatever time of the day, they could enjoy God’s companionship. They could talk to Him, sing to Him, worship Him, enjoy Him wherever, whenever, whatever.

If Old Testament believers experienced this divine “withness,” this divine presence, how much more should we New Testament believers, who see Christ more clearly, who have the fullness of the Spirit’s indwelling, and who have so many other helps in our lives, families, and churches?

Today’s graphic is available as a banner in various sizes from SermonView.com — click the image to see variations. Graphics are also available as slides for preaching series and both traditional Bible imagery and contemporary designs are offered.

May 15, 2011

Psalm 139: He Knows us Full Well

Today in our worship time, we had a reading of Psalm 139 that reminded me of an early Michael W. Smith VHS video where he reads the Psalm from memory.  Searching for it today, I found this first, it’s a composite of Michael doing the same thing at Creation 2002 with crowd shots at the annual festival. 

I have to be honest here, I’ve memorized a lot of scripture over the years, but never an extended passage like this.  Beyond what the text itself says about God’s intimate knowledge of us, I’ve always been challenged hearing Michael W. doing this because there’s something about the reading of scripture from memory that has a certain power that you don’t get from reading from a printed page.

Here’s the same text from the NLT:

1 O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!…

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

And the same text from The Message:

 1-6 God, investigate my life; get all the facts firsthand.
   I’m an open book to you;
      even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
   You know when I leave and when I get back;
      I’m never out of your sight.
   You know everything I’m going to say
      before I start the first sentence.
   I look behind me and you’re there,
      then up ahead and you’re there, too—
      your reassuring presence, coming and going.
   This is too much, too wonderful—
      I can’t take it all in!

 7-12 Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
      to be out of your sight?
   If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
      If I go underground, you’re there!
   If I flew on morning’s wings
      to the far western horizon,
   You’d find me in a minute—
      you’re already there waiting!
   Then I said to myself, “Oh, he even sees me in the dark!
      At night I’m immersed in the light!”
   It’s a fact: darkness isn’t dark to you;
      night and day, darkness and light, they’re all the same to you.

 13-16 Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
      you formed me in my mother’s womb.
   I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
      Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
      I worship in adoration—what a creation!
   You know me inside and out,
      you know every bone in my body;
   You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
      how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
   Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
      all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
   The days of my life all prepared
      before I’d even lived one day.

 17-18 Your thoughts—how rare, how beautiful!
      God, I’ll never comprehend them!
   I couldn’t even begin to count them—
      any more than I could count the sand of the sea.
   Oh, let me rise in the morning and live always with you! …

23-24 Investigate my life, O God,
      find out everything about me;
   Cross-examine and test me,
      get a clear picture of what I’m about;
   See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—
      then guide me on the road to eternal life.