Two Pictures of God

Everything I ever needed to know I learned from the genius we know as Monty Python. How to decipher a live parrot from a dead parrot? Done. How to deal with a cheese shop that has no cheese? Done. What the ministry of “Silly Walks” might look like? Done. They taught me everything I know, those crazed British men. Well, most everything. Their picture of God may be a bit more of their own reflection than the truth.

Did any of that sound familiar? Really? Have you ever thought that God is angry with you? Have you ever felt that he has left you alone with only a command and no power to carry that out? Have you ever felt that he is being intentionally difficult with you?

Poor Arthur, apologizing to God, falling to the ground and shielding his eyes in front of the Almighty was just not good enough. God would only be happy with him when he carried out his purpose, working hard day and night until his race was run. He was given a command and no help to even tell night from day. We have all come across one too many grail-shaped beacons that have led us off course.

To be sure, God is powerful, strong, just, righteous- wrathful against sin- and, as theologians like to say, “holy” and “glorious.” That just means the sum total of all the attributes of God. If you take God for all he reveals himself as, you get a glorious, holy and awe-inspiring God. The God of the bible is not one to be trifled with by any sane man.

Take, for instance, the prophet Ezekiel. Here is a priest of God stranded in exile. God, it was assumed, had left his people, abandoned them to ruin and misery. And they deserved it- that is for sure. Who could read Jeremiah’s account of the people abandoning their God for worthless idols and miss the fact that the people of God were the ones who had broken the covenant?

I cannot imagine Ezekiel’s ministry as a go-between for God and his people was that sweet of a gig at that time. Every day there must have been a line out the door with people either really, really mad at God or people really, really sad at their present situation. Ezekiel’s job as a priest, one would think, was a tireless and heavy task.

But looking at his story, maybe Ezekiel had a different problem. It looks more likely that the people of God had resigned themselves to the fact that God had left them. Nobody seeks out the priest if they have stopped believing in their God. Who needs a go-between for the God of Israel when you have been driven out of your land just that God? It seemed for all the world that God had abandoned his people once and for all. Experience tells us that we stop praying to God when we have stopped believing in him.

Does Ezekiel’s situation look anything like yours? Perhaps you have been driven out of your own home as a result of your unfaithfulness to your wife. Perhaps you have been cast out of your community because somebody found out you are, as Bonhoeffer would say, a great and desperate sinner. You will agree with your pastor, elder board, kangaroo court, or whatever human institution you submit to, that the consequence for your fallen condition merit being abandoned by the community, or even God himself.

Maybe you are more like Ezekiel. Your people just cannot seem to get it together. You pray for them day and night but they continue to live more like sons of Adam than brothers of Jesus. The church may be full on Sunday but the people are empty. This is for you too.

Because the point of the book of Ezekiel, and indeed, the whole bible, is not that God is scary, terrifying, wrathful, holy, glorious, or any of the things that he truly is. The point of the bible is that this God is there. He is there for you. He is there for me.
You see, the point is that God shows up to a people in exile. He shows up on his throne, which is where he has always been sitting- that’s right, sitting. He is sitting in Ezekiel’s account, just the same way as he is sitting now. Jesus sits at the right hand of his Father and he prays for his people. He is the real priest, going between man and God once and for all to prove that God is for us.

Please, please do not listen to so many would-be-prophets who paint a picture of God like Monty Python’s. If you need a picture, look at Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son coming home to his Father. That is the picture of this glorious and awesome God’s love for us.

All that God commands he gives us in Jesus.

This is a free-ing love.

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