…and through [Jesus] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:20 (NRSV)
In marriage I have come to a greater appreciation of the relational dance of give and take, of pursing and being pursued. Traditional roles say that when it comes to courtship and sex, men are the pursuers and women the captivated. I have found it generally true as are most generalities, but it’s too simplistic a construct for the intimacy of so mysterious and complex of relationship. I often find myself to be the pursuer, but it’s certainly fun when Wendy pursues me.
I find it fascinating that God so often uses the metaphor of marriage to describe His relationship with us. As a young man I struggled a lot with the notion of Jesus’ followers being described as “the bride of Christ.” To be honest, it was discomforting to my male ego. After years of navigating marriage, however, I realize how apt a metaphor it is. I begin to understand that it’s far more intimate and mysterious than the simplistic generalities of gender.
In today’s chapter, Jesus is described as the reconciler. He reconciled us to him. He pursued. He initiated. He came to us. He sacrificed Himself for us. He gave. He drew us in.
When Jesus found me, I was seeking, but looking back there is no doubt in my mind or spirit that it was Jesus who found me in my seeking and drew me in. He pursued me. He reconciled me to Himself.
Last month I was asked to deliver the final message in a series entitled Hearing God’s Voice. The theme of the morning is that prayer is two-way communication. In my message, I focused in on the idea that you can’t have tw0-way communication if you don’t first have a relationship.
Note: This audio file is posted with permission of Third Church, Pella, Iowa and intended only for personal listening. All rights are reserved by Third Church.
“Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.” Ezekiel 16:8 (NIV)
Across all human relationships, the marital relationship is unique in many respects. Two people choose to enter into a covenant relationship with one another, to be exclusively faithful and more completely intimate with that person than with any other. Marriage is the closest thing we have on Earth to embody the relationship God desires to have with each of us, and God uses the marriage relationship over and over again to embody the intimate relationship He desires to have with each of us.
In today’s chapter, God once again instructs Ezekiel to use marriage as a metaphor describing God’s relationship with the people of Israel. He uses imagery around the marital traditions of that day. God chooses Israel as His bride and enters into a marriage covenant, but Israel commits adultery by chasing after other lovers in the form of the many gods and idols that were popular in that culture.
God makes it prophetically clear that He will not ignore the unfaithfulness of His bride. There will be disgrace and consequences in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, in the end of the chapter God makes it clear that He will continue to honor His covenant; There will be a remnant who will survive and return to Jerusalem. God says he will make atonement for the adulterous sins committed; He will send His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sin, once for all.
Today I am struck that God, through Ezekiel, has been speaking the same message in many different metaphors and word pictures. I find that in the human experience not everyone “gets” a message the same way. Some people connect with one medium, some with another. A word picture may be profoundly revelatory to one person while another person remains blind to the message. Across the book of Ezekiel I am impressed at how God is desperately trying to get through to His people, His spouse. He keeps trying to get through.
I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols. Ezekiel 14:5 (NIV)
Let me confess something to you. I am a sucker for a great love story. Wendy, Taylor, Madison and Suzanna can all tell you that I’m a real softie when it comes to a well written tear jerker. Don’t get me wrong. I am a guy and I love my action movies, but have you ever noticed that even that all great action movies have a love story woven through them? Script writers learned long ago that love stories are a core part of the human experience and a big part of what we respond to as we sit in front of that screen.
I believe that this has a great deal to do with how God created us. The Great Story that God reveals between the beginning of Genesis and the final chapter of John’s Revelation is a love story. It is the love story between God and humanity. God even uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between Jesus and His followers.
There is no relationship that doesn’t have its ups and downs. Even the best of marriages suffer their share of conflict. So it is with the Great Story. At the point of the story in which Ezekiel is telling, the relationship between God and His people is experiencing acute relational pain. God’s people have been adulterous. Their hearts and spirits had strayed. They had given their greatest affection to other idols and gods. There was a significant break in the relationship, and God was intent on “recapturing the hearts of the people.”
I find it hard to imagine worshipping the kinds of idols that stole the hearts of people in Ezekiel’s day. Worshipping at a pagan shrine or making an “offering” to have sex with a temple prostitute of the local fertility god is something I can’t even fathom. And yet, it seems to me that being driven by lust to have sex with a prostitute in service to Asherah is really no different than being driven by lust to masturbate to pornography or have sex with a prostitute in service to the almighty dollar. Our idols have changed faces over the millennia, but the core relational issues remain the same.
Today, I am thinking about the idols that steal my affections from God. And, I am grateful for God’s never ending desire and efforts to recapture my wayward heart.
“If I have walked with falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit— let God weigh me in honest scales and he will know that I am blameless—” Job 31:5-6 (NIV)
Wendy, Suzanna and I stood in the kitchen this past Sunday night and had one of those really important conversations about life. It wasn’t chit-chat. It wasn’t casual. We wandered into some deep weeds and talked about why it is we all do things we know we shouldn’t, and why it is we choose out of doing things we know we should. We talked about the process each one of us must go through of figuring these things out so that we can successfully move forward in our life journey.
On Tuesday night and Wednesday we were blessed by a visit from Madison, who came home from Colorado to see the family for Christmas (she’ll be on-call at work next week). Sitting around the dining room table late into Tuesday evening and again in the afternoon on Wednesday, Wendy and I waded once more into deep weeds with our daughter. We had honest conversation about old scars, misperceptions, and miscommunication. We acknowledged the ways we have hurt one another over the years, whom we love deeply.
So, here’s the problem I have with Job. I get that he feels his suffering is unjust. I understand feeling that the scales of justice are out of whack when you do your darnedest to be an alright guy and life takes a dump on you. I’m a good, midwestern protestant boy of hardworking Dutch heritage. I’ve tried hard to serve God and walk the straight and narrow since the days of my youth. Reading today’s chapter, however, leaves me scratching my head at Job’s claims of piety:
I haven’t looked lustfully at a woman
I haven’t walked with falsehood
I haven’t been enticed by a woman or committed adultery
I haven’t been unjust to my servants
I haven’t denied the poor or refused to share with the needy
I haven’t been greedy
I haven’t rejoiced at my enemies misfortune
I have no hidden sins
I get that Job is a good guy, but no one is that good. When I go down this list I realize that I (or my wife, daughters, family, friends, neighbors, employees, and etc.) could provide you with specific examples of ways of committed each of these wrongdoings somewhere along my journey. I’m not proud of this fact. Maybe I’m just a rotten person, but that’s the point. No matter how good we try to be, we all have tragic flaws. We all make mistakes. Each one of us repeatedly finds ourselves choosing to do the things we don’t want to do and refusing to do the things we know we should. Each one of us causes hurt to the ones we love the most.
The ultimate theme of the epic poem of Job are the questions which arise when good people who lead good lives experience tragic and inexplicable suffering. I get from a literary perspective that Job’s lofty claims of righteousness serve to heighten his climactic argument in this cosmic debate just before God breaks His silence. Still, I read the claims and think to myself, “I think you left something off the list, Job: Humility.”
And, I think that’s exactly where God will enter the debate.
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites.They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. 1 Kings 11:1-2 (NIV)
Wendy and I have had held a running conversation throughout our relationship. It ebbs and flows. It weaves its way into our conscious thought, then goes away for a time. Its the never ending subject of Mars and Venus, male and female, man and woman. Wendy has publicly made the comment many times that she knows she can easily manipulate me any time she wants to do so. I, on the other hand, know that I can put my foot down and forcefully demand my way when I desire. So it goes, the give and take of power, control and negotiation within marriage. It has been mysterious ebb and flow of relationship between men and women since the Garden of Eden.
Solomon was a wise man in many ways, but he had a fatal flaw. Solomon loved women. He loved a lot of women. According to today’s chapter the dude had 700 wives “of royal birth.” Most of these were likely to have been arranged marriages with the daughters of kings and rulers throughout the region. A king threatened by Solomon’s power would give his daughter to Solomon in marriage figuring that his son-in-law would want to maintain an amicable relationship with family. Solomon also had 300 concubines. These were likely girls of a lower social class that Solomon saw, desired, and attained by leveraging his royal authority. How interesting that Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, was attained by his father David in a similar manner.
While I am married to one women, God has seen fit to surround me with females. Along with Wendy I have daughters Taylor, Madison who still stand under my umbrella, and sister-in-law Suzanna who has joined us under our roof. I will admit that I, at times, find it wearying to navigate my relationships with all the women in my life. They are each unique with their own unique personality, communication style, needs, and wants. I can’t even fathom trying to navigate relationship 997 other women at the same time. It would be impossible.
As a man, however, I can imagine that Solomon had his favorites among his 1,000 wives and concubines. I also imagine that Solomon’s wives were constantly, actively vying for power and position. They would have had to manipulate people, situations, and Solomon himself in order to gain attention and favor. The political intrigue within the royal harem had to have been intense.
There is also no way that Solomon could have meaningful relationship and influence over so many women from so many different tribes and backgrounds. His foreign wives would naturally want to worship their foreign gods. Solomon needed to keep the peace among all his wives. It’s not hard for me to imagine how it all went wrong. Solomon allowed his wives to worship the gods of their people. He had some favorite wives he wanted to make happy and compliant, and so when they wanted Solomon to build a shrine to their god he found it easier to say “Yes, dear. Whatever you want.”
Today, I am thinking about men and women. I am appreciative of the beautiful, strong women God has placed in my life and all that I learn about both God and life in the ebb and flow of our relationships. I am thinking about what it means to be a man and how I am called to bring balance to those relationships. I am thinking about fatal flaws and what happens if I don’t capably play my part. It is an eternal mystery, this dance of relationship between male and female. I have more questions than answers. I’m just trying to:
If a ruler’s anger rises against you, do not leave your post; calmness can lay great offenses to rest. Ecclesiastes 10:4 (NIV)
I am the youngest of four siblings. It is said, primarily by elder siblings, that the younger children always have it easier than their older brother and sisters. I do agree that parents tend to chill out as they get older. I don’t know whether this is because they have more parenting experience or because they are simply worn out. Perhaps a little of both. In that leg of my journey, I found that my path was sometimes made easier by observing and learning from the mistakes of my brothers and sister.
When I was young I watched the arguments between my parents and my siblings. Like all families, we had our fair share of them. My observation led me to perceive and understand that there was a consistent pattern in the way arguments escalated between my parents and my siblings:
Child asks for something they want.
Parent says, “no.”
Indignant, child rolls eyes and asks for reason.
Defensive, parent plays the authoritarian trump card. “Because, I said so.”
Child plays victim card, makes snide remark (under his breath, but still meant to be audibly heard) about never getting his way.
Parent takes offense, reacts, and angrily calls child out for his attitude.
Child raises his voice and accuses parent of injustice, recounting a string of similar cases.
Parent raises voice, recounts their own rap sheet of the child’s offenses, and threatens further punishment if child doesn’t back down.
Child screams and accuses parent of running a concentration camp for children.
Parent screams back what an ungrateful child they have and grounds him for life.
Having observed this pattern on a number of occasions, I quickly learned that:
Arguing never changed my parents initial decision, it only entrenched it.
Arguing almost always ended with the child in worse trouble and more punishment.
Arguing led to parental defensiveness and mistrust.
So, I stopped arguing:
Child asks for something they want.
Parent says, “No.” Instinctively sets defense shields to maximum.
Child calmly says, “Okay.” He returns to his room (face it, either way it’s where you always end up).
Parent scratches head and wonders what just happened.
To be honest, I wasn’t always happy about my parents decisions. My pragmatism didn’t lessen my adolescent anger. I threw some private tantrums back in my room that I refused to let my parents see. It just seemed to me that all the escalation and arguing was a waste of time and energy, and the ultimate outcome threatened to be worse than just sucking up the disappointment at not getting what I wanted. The result? I think my parents were ultimately easier going and more trusting with me because I was an easier going kid.
Looking back, I believe that learning this lesson proved valuable throughout my life journey. Directing my emotional energies where they can truly make a difference and wisely choosing my emotional battles has served me well. As Solomon alluded in today’s chapter, refusing to react to another person’s emotional outburst and remaining calm usually halts any further escalation. Choosing not to add fuel to the emotional fire, the other person’s rage will usually smolder rather quickly.