Read Ezekiel 6:1-14
6 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 ‘Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them 3 and say: “You mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. 4 Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 6 Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. 7 Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the Lord.
8 ‘“But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. 9 Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me – how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. 10 And they will know that I am the Lord; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.
11 ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out ‘Alas!’ because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the people of Israel, for they will fall by the sword, famine and plague. 12 One who is far away will die of the plague, and one who is near will fall by the sword, and any one who survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I pour out my wrath on them. 13 And they will know that I am the Lord, when their people lie slain among their idols around their altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak – places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah – wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the Lord.”’
The prophets do not hold back with their language. For Ezekiel, he excels in communicating the despair of the people who have lost their homeland. Ezekiel saw through the denial and despair and saw that somehow, incredibly, God was at work in the midst of the catastrophe. Those in denial refused to believe that God would allow bad things to happen to them. Those in despair, were overwhelmed by events and refused to see that life was worth living.
In the rubble, God was at work. What Ezekiel saw was that God was at work, using the disaster to create a new people of God. A people that would keep their identity as “The people of God”. The people of God had lost their place, the land God had given them, and they had lost the presence of God, as His glory left the temple. Ezekiel sees all this. He sees the doom and destruction, the devastation and disaster. But there was hope… God promised to one day renew his presence amongst his people.
My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God and they will be my people. Ezekiel 37:27
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27
In your life where have you experienced disaster? How did you respond? It may be that you are living in that place now and feel that God’s presence has left you. Know that He is there with you in the midst of despair, in your place of suffering.
At Coventry Vineyard today, we are looking at the Tough Question, “Why does God allow suffering?” oftentimes, we never find out ‘why?’, Job didn’t. Our experiences of suffering change us, Will they cause us to turn away from God in despair and denial or turn towards him with hope?
For more on this see Philip Yancey’s excellent book “Where is God when it hurts?“