image by Devin Avery from Unsplash
Ezekiel is a book about God's holiness and judgment, just as surely as it is a book about God's mercy and compassion.
The theme of restoration, specifically the comprehensive, holistic restoration of God's people--in their relationship with God, in their sin-damaged hearts and natures, in persecution by their enemies, in their relationships with each other--is a central one, which unites those two aspects of God's character.
In Ezekiel 36 and 37, the picture of perfect Christian unity is depicted as one of the most beautiful blessings we have to look forward to in Heaven.
But do we agree?
Many of us, far from seeing Christian community as a blessing God gave to us and a foretaste of heaven, associate it with legalism, unlovingness, miscommunication, and failure to give us what we want or need (more on that in another post.)
In Ezekiel, however, the Messianic kingdom emerges, not as a place, or a system, but a community. Its first defining feature is the perfected unity of God's people; a true and lasting unity for eternity.
Likewise, in What is a Christian Worldview? Phillip Ryken points out that the New Heavens and the New Earth are described as the City of God. Why not garden? Or world? City implies and foregrounds community. The most basic defining characteristic of a city is people, living together in close proximity. One of the main elements of God's New Earth will be Christian unity, perfected. If we shirk from Christian community, if we like to emphasize that our spiritual walk is something exclusively between God and ourselves, we might need to reconsider just how ready we are for the City of God.
There are so many possible reasons, some passably legitimate if not taken to an extreme, others downright disturbing. And only we know which one is ours--if we're being honest with ourselves.
We're unwilling to make ourselves vulnerable and accountable to others. Perhaps there are petty sins and unhealthy habits we're reluctant to acknowledge or confront.
Being critical and intolerant of differences/weaknesses/mistakes constantly prevents us from loving others, as we always decide that they're lacking or undeserving of our effort and involvement.
We're pathologically afraid of getting hurt, perhaps from some past traumatic experience (whether in the church or outside.) We don't want to get too fond of anyone or feel obliged to anyone, and we view any attempts to grow closer with suspicion and wariness.
We make excuses that there's no one "compatible," as if this were a dating site. Different personalities, different backgrounds, different opinions--too much to handle. We believe that the answer lies in another denomination, in the next church, in a better pastor or Sunday School teacher, in a demographic group or income bracket more like our own, in a dress code, in a more vibrant and spiritual-minded youth group or a more participative Bible study group (this was me years ago.)
Our crippling insecurity and need for validation--and our unwillingness to admit it--makes us too proud to make advances. So instead we wait for others to approach us, feeling entitled to their initiative, because otherwise doesn't it reflect badly on this church, that they're "unloving" and "self-centered?"
Granted, the unity and relationships we experience here on earth cannot escape from being tainted by sin. We will experience betrayal, heartbreak, disappointment, miscommunication, bitterness, loss--as with any other relationships between sin-stained humanity on this sin-stained earth. But that very process, as so much else of what we experience in life, is part of God's plan for our sanctification. We persevere, looking forward to the New Earth and the City of God, where these relationships will be perfected, and we will experience unity as God intended it to be.
Christ's love for His church is something we would do better to emulate, out of all the many areas we seek to emulate Him in.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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