When we think of the Love of God, it is very possible to slip into a motif of sentimentalism. Be assured of this: God is not sentimental. His love does not drip of syrupy platitudes and pictures of little puppies. He loves the old gnarly dogs just as much as the cute youngsters.
But most people don’t define love the way God does. That makes it more difficult to understand some of the things God does and says. There may not be anything more difficult than Ezekiel 24:15-18. Here’s what it says:
15 The word of the Lord came to me: 16 “Son of man, with one blow I am about to take away from you the delight of your eyes. Yet do not lament or weep or shed any tears. 17 Groan quietly; do not mourn for the dead. Keep your turban fastened and your sandals on your feet; do not cover your mustache and beard or eat the customary food of mourners. ”
18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and in the evening my wife died. The next morning I did as I had been commanded.
God tells the Prophet Ezekiel that his wife is going to die that evening and he is not allowed to outwardly mourn her in any way. This may be one of the most incomprehensible things God has ever asked anyone to do. Leaving aside for a moment that God is telling someone their loved one is about to die. Leaving aside for a moment that, from the way it is worded, it appears that Ezekiel and his wife were very close and loving.
Actually, we can’t leave those things aside. He is not asking this of a divorced prophet or of a man whose wife was a shrew. This is the love of his life. Not only is she about to die, but he is not allowed to grieve and he has to talk to people about why he is not speaking.
Why would a loving God do this to one of his best people? The love of God compels God to do the best thing for the most amount of people while keeping two truths in mind:
1. That people have freedom of choice over their own lives.
2. That sin is powerful and if allowed to go unchecked will destroy every person on this planet. God’s purpose is to deal with this second truth without completely violating the first truth.
The entire nation of Israel has wandered away from God and is practicing witchcraft, rampant immorality, idol worship, child sacrifice and war cult activity. God has given Ezekiel and a handful of other prophets messages to pass on in warning about where these actions are leading. No one is paying any attention to them. But as the days before consequences for their actions get closer, the messages of God become sharper. Finally, God uses a metaphor that will drive home the point. But it requires a picture that will not easily leave people’s minds.
Several things to remember. First, we all die. And death is in itself not a curse. The cross of Christ has removed sin from death and therefore taken away its sting. Second, we will all die when it is our appointed time to die. Nothing anyone else does or says can change that. Third, those of us who believe in God do not see death as a final moment. Fourth, sometimes for many of us, grieving has to be postponed due to other critical issues.
The nation of Israel are about to be attacked and attacked and attacked by their enemies. This time, God is not going to stop the attacks. People will die by the thousands, not because God is unloving, but because the nation didn’t want to acknowledge God any longer. This prophetic action God is calling Ezekiel to (i.e. not mourning his wife’s death) will mirror the coming days when the chaos and confusion of being attacked will leave people no time to grieve as they run for their own lives.
God gave them this picture to warn them and perhaps shock them into seeing what their actions would cause. They could have changed their minds and their ways and turned back to God. It may not have prevented everything from happening, but God is a forgiving God and will help us when we turn to Him.
We ought to remember the words of C. S. Lewis in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when describing Aslan, a figure of God Himself: “He is good, but He’s not safe”.
Not safe indeed. But He is loving, good and forgiving. And just so you know, God did comfort the prophet after he gave this word. At the end of that chapter he does tell him there will be a time he can openly grieve and God will help him.
What we all need to know is that when we think God does not care about the smallest things in our lives, we can be assured He does. But there are moments when God’s actions tell us He has bigger fish to fry. If we know he loves us fiercely, that can help us get through the tough times.