Friday, November 25, 2011

Homily Magnus: On God (as proclaimed by an orthodox rebel)

What can I tell you about this God of mine? What can I say to make you truly see Him? Words are inadequate, no matter how well they are wrought. They fall short every time. Furthermore, it does not help that God's image has had so much silly sentiment and slipshod verbiage dumped upon it for many years now. The skeptics of the world howl at us for good reason; our God has become a pathetic, paltry thing. He does not inspire awe of any kind: no art of literature or music. He is no one's muse anymore. Even our worship has become shallow and repetitive, noisome and hollow. What can I say to repair such damage? How can I help you see God rightly again?

In Ezekiel 18, we find a strange conversation. God is rebuking His people for their misuse of a proverb; they are trying to use it to shift the blame for their sins (vs. 2). In response, God goes into a rather famous monologue about the nature of sin and how He deals with it. As He speaks, a fascinating pattern begins to evolve.

The First Precedent

God starts by laying down a simple rule: "the soul that sins, it shall die" (vs. 4b). In addressing sin, God lays down the immutable fact of His holiness. Sin is not something that He can or will simply look over or ignore. He deals with it. He must deal with it. If He did not, then He would not be God. His holiness will not allow sin to take a pass or slip by. It will be destroyed along with whatever souls swear allegiance to it. In verse 20, He repeats the same rule, as though to drive the point clearly home: "The soul that sins, it shall die."

What is interesting about this rule is that it is not merely saying that sin will be punished. It is also saying that every man's sin is his own: "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son" (vs. 20). No man's sin is imputed to another. Every one shall give an account of themselves, and no one else, unto God (Rom. 14:12). So we see that in laying down this one rule, God reveals not only His holiness but also His justice. What he decrees and delivers is not arbitrary; it is pinpoint accurate every time: "I will judge you...every one according to his [own] ways" (vs. 30).

The Second Precedent

Just one verse after He repeats the first rule, He suddenly lays down a second: "But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he has committed and will keep my statutes and do what is lawful and right, then he shall surely live; he shall not die" (vs. 21). Here we see that God has provided a way out. He lays down the immutable fact of His forgiveness. When a sinner repents and turns back to God, He will forgive Him. He must forgive him. If He does not, then He would not be God. Now we are beginning to see something interesting start to appear. It is not wholly unique (for many other gods offer forgiveness of some sort), but it does begin to stir the heart with something unspeakable. The holy and just God of the universe who stores up His wrath against sin and the souls that sin, He has also stacked the deck against Himself: He left the backdoor open, on purpose.

The Divine Position

As I said, none of this is inherently unique. Many gods throughout time have punished those who would not do as they were told, and many have offered forgiveness to those who do. Amidst that swelling cosmic monotony, however, a new tone begins to play, a note wholly unique and unto itself, spinning forth from some new song and unheard of string that the universe had never known before. At its sound it dissolves the darkness and shatters the stars. The pillars of the earth quake before it, and every false god quails in fear when they hear it, for it is completely alien to them, and every creature fears the unknown.

In verse 23, we hear this original song: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die...and not that he should turn from his ways and live?" All gods punish. Many gods will forgive. But only one God amongst the endless pantheon of human imagination has ever esteemed one over the other; only one continually sought out the one to the detriment of the other. He alone pleads for forgiveness so that He may not have to punish at all: "I have no pleasure in the death of Him that dies, saith the Lord God. Therefore turn, and live" (vs. 32).

The Divine Plea

Here the new song crescendos into its fullest and highest expression: "Repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin" (vs. 30b). Every god punishes and many forgive, but they all do it for the same reason: for the benefit of themselves, for an increase of worship and worshipers through fear of eternal damnation and hope of material blessings. But this God does nothing for His own benefit. He needs no benefits; if He did, then He would not be God. Rather, He does all for our benefit. Sin is punished so it will not afflict those who are oppressed by it, and sinners will be forgiven so that the soul that sins but repents shall not die. Do you not see? It is for us that He pours out His wrath, and for us He pours out His love; and He desires that His love would overflow all of His wrath, so that all His wrath would be a mere drop in the bucket in comparison.

What can be said about such a God? Perhaps there are no better words than that of the prophet Micah, when he finished his words to the people of God: "Who is a God like unto thee, who pardons iniquity and passes by the transgressions of the remnant of His heritage? He retains not His anger forever, because He delights in mercy" (Micah 7:18). Did you hear that? His anger will not last, because He delights in mercy. What God is there like this? A God who punishes sin, but forgives the sinner because He delights in mercy? You will not find a God like this, not yesterday, today, or tomorrow.

Let us take every god from every religion there is, both modern and ancient, monotheistic and polytheistic and pantheistic. Let us line them all in a row and stack them high, until they are a towering wall of divine qualities and attributes. Let us catalog all of those qualities and attributes until we have the definitive list and measurement of godliness. Let us take even the gods of the atheists, their science and rationalism and personal principles, and add them to the ever growing pile. Then let us stand in wonder at this tapestry of divinity, and then let us watch it diminish as a candle does before the dawn, as a fading spark before the light of the sun. All of the gods of man and earth cannot come close to this one God. All the gods of earth cannot come near to Jehovah. Every quality and attribute they represent is merely one facet upon the infinite and awesome jewels that crown His head. They cannot come near to His fullness, nor even touch the hem of His garment. But we can touch that hem. We have already touched it in Christ. The God that is greater than all of our bewildering creations is nearer to us than our own breath. He has brought us in. He left open the backdoor from sin; so too He has left open the front door to His own house.

What, then, can I say about this God? Why would I leave Him? Where else would I go? What man would leave the absolutely perfect woman to waste his days amongst all the desolate prostitutes of the world? Or who would spend their life a moorless vagabond when their true home suddenly appears around the corner? God is not one choice amongst many. He is the only choice. He alone has the words of life (John 6:68). To refuse Him is to make no-choice, to leave the realms of freedom and joy and beauty forever and cast yourself into the infinite dark, where there is no sound save for the gnashing of your own teeth.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

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