The soul that sins will thrive. Life without God is the best life. Once we can get rid of the ghost of God, once we can shake off that old rumour of a God looking down on us, who needs to be pleased, or appeased, then we can start to live. The sooner we shut our Bibles, close our minds to the notion of objective right and wrong, and start living for our own dreams, then the freer and the happier we’ll be. What are we waiting for?
Ask the people of Ezekiel’s time, and they will tell you, “we tried that”. The people of Jerusalem and Judah knew all about liberty. They had long since ditched the Sunday School lessons, and embraced the fun and freedom of their pagan neighbours. The thing is, it’s done nothing for them. They are sitting there in the open-prison of exile. And it’s no fun. Maybe they should have listened to the preacher, or read their Bibles, instead of making up their minds about The Big Questions by just copying everyone else. Like so many people, the Judeans mistook fun for freedom, and all they got for it was guilt.
Guilt is a horrible thing. No one rests easy when loaded with guilt, whether it’s imagined or real. And people who don’t feel guilty are furious at those who insist that, actually, perhaps they should do. Ch.18 sees Ezekiel defending God’s ways to the exiles, and insisting that God is just, and that – though they deny it – these people are actually guilty before Him.
“It wasn’t our fault”, is the refrain Ezekiel keeps hearing from his countrymen in their exile (v.2). They’re being punished, they insist, for the sins of their forefathers. Are they angry, indignant that they’re suffering and it’s all somebody else’s fault; or are they resigned to their fate, just insisting that life’s not fair and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Either way, they’re sure that their lives are not a problem of their own making.
“Not so”, God replies, “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (v.4). And Ezekiel will make the case that, far from being the helpless victims of someone else’s sins, they are bearing punishment because they also bear guilt.
As a priest, Ezekiel is a man trained in the Law and its ways. Hear the lawyer in him, then, as he speaks for God. He gives them Case Law, and offers examples of three different lives, all from one family. One man lives righteously, and is blessed in doing so (vv.5-9). His son lives the opposite life, and as he meets the reward of the same Just God, so is punished (vv.10-14). It’s simple, fair, and a powerful example to Ezekiel’s hearers: the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right.
That does not mean, though, that a life that’s begun well might not go to ruin, nor that a wicked life might not be transfigured by repentance and transformation (vv.21-29). God is righteous, So when people point a finger at God, they better be careful in case they end up pointing the finger back at themselves.
In fact, that’s exactly what we should do. “I have sinned” is a good place to begin dialogue with God. “Repent” (v.30) isn’t a command to wallow in guilt, or play a misery game with God. It’s a command to deal with guilt, or rather, to allow God to deal with guilt. Our guilt is real, actual, enslaving, joy-robbing, and hell-deserving. Deny it, or justify it, and it will kill you, slowly but surely. Come to Jesus, and find it met, atoned for, washed away. The power is His, the coming is yours. That’s your responsibility.
The soul that repents will live, and thrive. Try it.