There are times when friendships that were very important to me suddenly evaporated without explanation. Ask as I might, or try as I would, no reasons were offered or voicemails or emails returned. Just silence. So painful!
It’s something common to every age, of course. Think, for instance, of young school children who announce to others, “you aren’t my friend anymore!” They’re practicing for adulthood. Arbitrary heart-breaking is a common practice for many. Why? Maybe because the impact of withdrawn affections has a certain leverage in it that gives the wielder of that power a sense of status. Who knows! But many of us know how sharp the pain is when we give ourselves in the trust of love to another, only to find the trust was utterly misplaced and spurned.
So you can imagine how alert I am when I sense a broken heart in someone else. More than once I’ve heard of someone who, though fully committed to a relationship, was abandoned. So let me paraphrase a message I received this morning from someone I love and trust beyond words. His marriage has gone badly—so badly that it’s hard to talk about it in civil terms.
He wrote bluntly about his wife: “I’ve been broken over her whoring heart. She’s left me. I’m broken as I see her looking for other lovers in every place imaginable.” Her ugly betrayals were launched when her gaze shifted away from her faithful, wonderful husband towards some charming, manipulative men who gave her cheap gifts for one night stands. So, as you can imagine, he’s broken by it. My own sense of grief welled up for him as I read the note. What a stupid, ugly woman—empty of any sense or morality as she reverted to playground behavior and told him, “I just don’t love you anymore.”
I should tell you who wrote the note since he’s a very well known figure and won’t mind my sharing. His name is Yahweh, the great and almighty creator of the heavens and the earth. He’s the one whose triune love overflowed so that he made a creation with people who were made to receive and respond to that love. God intended that in the creation he would gain a bride—and when we come to the New Testament we find the Divine bridegroom is the Son—and it was this love relationship that was shattered.
The message I read came in Ezekiel 6. Let me offer it again, compressed but no longer in paraphrase: “Son of man [Yahweh speaking to Ezekiel] . . . prophesy against them, and say . . . hear the word of God who is Yahweh . . . I will [confront them in horrific terms] . . . then those who escape [the coming judgment] will remember me among the nations where they are carried captive, how I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols. And they will be loathsome in their own sight for the evils they have committed, for all their abominations” [Ezek. 6:1-9].
My response to this section of the Bible is always the same whenever I reach it: I grieve. I realize that even today there is an innumerable band of critics who complain about the “harsh God of the Old Testament” and with that charge they show that they just don’t get it. It’s as if a community made up of faithless wives—of those who swap their cheap overnight partners with each other and show off the cheap gifts they received from the night before—are banded together in despising the proper, wholesome jealousy of their faithful husbands.
What’s striking in the Ezekiel text—and too readily overlooked—is that God allowed the sharp judgment against his collective bride in order to sort out those who finally do get it from those who don’t. The group of those who are “loathsome in their own sight for the evils they have committed” will be restored! These are then reestablished in their marriage—taken back by their cuckolded divine lover whose joy is unbounded.
And I’m now in that collective body. I thank God that he caught my attention and stirred my own grief! So when I go on to read Ezekiel 9, as I did this morning, I find myself grieving for those today, both inside and outside the church, who are very much like the faithless spiritual leaders in Ezekiel’s day. When I read of God’s instruction to his angelic servants, I bow in wonder and in fear of what must lie ahead for us unless God has changed his ways since then: “‘Pass through the city . . . and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him and strike [all those without the mark]. . . . And begin at my sanctuary.’”
Amen, Lord. Your ways are right. We’ve been unfaithful and you’ve been faithful. Thank you for your mercy. I love you because you first loved me, and you never quit!