“the hard discipline of existing as God’s people”

“Cry out and wail, son of man, for it is against my people…”  Ezekiel 21:12

“Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow.  It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from Heaven.  Even angels long to look into these things.”   1 Peter 1:10-12

The deliverance of Christendom in the West is not going to come about by critique, but by suffering.

Ezekiel’s scenes of God’s judgment for His people’s idolatry always contains the strains of what we hear in this refrain, the wailing that all of this judgment is reserved especially for His special people, the ones who betray their undeserved covenant gift by obeisance to idols, injustice, and willful ignorance.  Ezekiel is swept up in visions of a judgment inevitable from a God unquenchable, whose unfurled sword is a greater terror than any human army.  But what continually strikes me about Ezekiel’s message is the sad recognition that all of this, all of this, is for God’s own people, the ones He loves and calls His own.  They have gone too far, He declares.  Ezekiel is to weep, not God; God is not weeping here, but He is vengeful and holy, and Ezekiel stands before that in utter despair and terror.

Peter talks about the prophets speaking of grace to come, and indeed Ezekiel will later speak of grace to come that is fulfilled in the Messiah Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but first the prophet speaks rage and revenge, speaks judgment and fire.  We would be foolish to think God has no such message for His people today, no such message for the evils of colonialism, craven capitalism, conspicuous consumption, for the idolatries, injustices, and willful ignorances of the contemporary Church.  We were bought with a price; yet the judgment and full wrath, unfurled sword, have come upon Jesus our Messiah.  But we are not immune from the consequences of all this.  In fact, we are called also to wail.

How will the church be redeemed?  Peter tells us in no uncertain terms: “…you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

Suffering, alienation, estrangement from the world, are God’s means of purifying us.  We suffer, and to treat such suffering as grace, not as source of bitterness, vindictive pettiness, but as part of the process fo being born again, of being made into Christ’s image, of an alternative from the empty way of life handed to us… that way of living, of bearing with suffering and with thievery and blame and deceit, that is what it means to be the people of God.

The church in the US is still enthralled by its belief in its own chosenness, its own stories of salvation, that it fails to hear God’s present voice.  As Hauerwas (1993) contends, “…our fundamental problem with hearing the Bible can be attributed to our having accommodated our lives to the presuppositions of liberal democracies…The Bible is not and should not be accessible to merely anyone, but rather it should be made available to those who have undergone the hard discipline of existing as part of God’s people.” His claims are provocative and need more explanation, but the sharp point of them is that we are not prepared to claim we know God’s Word simply by reading it or by buying into the dominant American Christian interpretations of it if we don’t live in the community where that Word is allowed to fundamentally challenge our way of living in its core, idolatrous ways.

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