Confronting wickedness rather than turning away
Ezekiel 33: 7-11 (NRSV)
7 So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.
10 Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” 11 Say to them, As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?
I find this is a really interesting passage from Ezekiel. All too often we fall into the trap of seeing the God of the Old Testament as violent and vengeful and the God of the New Testament as all love and forgiveness. This passage gives a real insight into what matters to God.
How can a just God tolerate sin? How can a loving God condemn people for their sins? These may be some of the most difficult questions we ask ourselves as Christians. This passage perhaps goes some way to helping us with that. God will not and cannot tolerate wrongdoing — it has to be dealt with and there has to be punishment. But…and this is so reassuring and helpful… God would always prefer the wrongdoer to change their ways.
Now, of course, we understand that it is by becoming a follower and friend of Jesus that we get put right with God, but Ezekiel gives us something else to think about. God has planned a role for us where we stand up for justice and challenge wrongdoing wherever we see it. The love of God is not something we just absorb, like that all too rare Scottish summer sunshine. It’s something we need to reflect out to others and shine into the darkness. Now, there’s a challenge.
Father, we want to know your love. Help us to show your love in each word, each smile and each act. Amen.