God hates sin, but he loves people. He hates sin, because he knows it destroys us. Yet, rather than seeing his heart of love, most of us believe that he is actually withholding something good from us when he gives us rules for living. While many see him as a God of wrath and condemnation, he does not delight in judgment. He is a God of mercy, and even the Old Testament prophets who preached judgment offered chance after chance for repentance. It was only when the people’s sin had reached a point of no return (including child sacrifice) that God finally allowed his children to suffer the consequences of their sin. Even then, he desired reconciliation, and his purpose in judgment was to draw his people back into relationship. This passage in Ezekiel stood out to me today.
Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live! Ez. 18:25-32
As I read in Ezekiel today, I couldn’t help but think of the kids who attended Christian school with our kids. When I look back at them, many of them ended up with very broken lives. Why? Just like the Israelites fell into idolatry, because they saw the the rules imposed by their parents and the school as unfair. These kids felt they were missing out on something, and went to great links to be like the world. They didn’t see the good in their parents’ motives, even as Israel could only see what God seemed to be withholding from them.* In the end, in spite of their parents’ good intentions to protect them, their lives became shipwrecked.
The bottom line was that they felt like their parents were holding out on them, and they just had to have what everyone else in society had. They didn’t see that their parents wanted the best for them. They only saw that they were “different,” and they didn’t want to be. The same was true of Israel. Instead of being grateful for God’s care and provision, they looked around at what they were “missing.” They didn’t have multiple gods to help with various issues in life. They didn’t have a king like all the other nations, and so they insisted on being like those other nations—even to the point of sacrificing their children to false gods. God gave them free will to choose, and his desire was for his children to choose him. Instead they chose bondage.
God offers us a new heart and spirit, and too often we run after shallow substitutes that result in bondage. We run to other things for comfort—food, relationships, alcohol, and the like. We don’t want to bow our wills to anyone, so in the end our desire to be in control ends up controlling us. The only true freedom in this life is found in completely surrendering to the one who truly wants the best for us. He does not delight in our destruction, and he knows that when our worship becomes misplaced, that will be the result. He offers a solution, yet too often we run to counterfeits.
Thank you Lord that you care, and that you do not delight in judging us. Thank you for your mercy. The solution for this whole problem is proper worship. Help us never put our own comfort or desires above your best for our lives. We know you want the best for us, so we can trust you. Give us new hearts and spirits that delight in you, rather than hide from you. Teach us that true and proper worship is the key to true freedom. Amen
*Now I have to admit that this isn’t the best analogy. Sometimes earthly parents focus a little too much on control, and sometimes that might push kids towards rebellion. But our Lord never forces his way in our lives, and yet we still insist on running from his best.