With the rhythm of a drummer the prophet Ezekiel called on readers to know and respond to God—Yahweh—as the only true God. His repeated refrain was a promise: “Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”
What brings about this “knowing”?
Mainly it comes by experiencing promised disasters when they arrive. Tragedies are God’s wake-up alarms. But knowing God can also be generated in a positive way—as he shares himself in a unique way with certain people.
On the negative side of this refrain God assures nations that ruin will be coming to all who despise him and his ways: who prefer moral independence. Death and disaster lies ahead. Why? Because God rewards the promoters of spiritual and behavioral independence with the relative absence of his own goodness.
In one of many examples God warned the people of Edom, “I will deal with you according to the anger and envy that you showed [Israel] because of your hatred against them” (Ezekiel 35:11). So when national disaster did, indeed, arrive it should have dawned on Edom that this was what God had promised!
The positive side of God’s promise is a dramatic contrast. First he warned his chosen people that they too would face chaos in return for their own moral chaos: death and exile was their reward. But within this standard arrangement God promised to some “a new heart, and a new spirit …. And I will put my Spirit within you … and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”
So these favored people are rescued from the pendulum rhythm of evil versus evil. But is it fair that only some are rescued?
Fairness, of course, can be an uneven, self-serving standard. What is fair—using elementary moral logic—is that evil is its own just reward: sin bears the fruit of more sin. Falsity produces corruption. Death generates death. And God’s ways are always good and right as he allows evil to run its course in a fallen world.
So God’s fairness, properly framed, is that he always allows humanity its greatest desire: independence. From Adam onward humans have always been ambitious to be like God; and with that, to have the freedom of self-determined good and evil.
By now this autonomy is viewed as essential to life. God, in fairness, allows us to discover how life works when we use our free will to do whatever happens to be right in our own eyes.
The outcome of this freedom? Decay, distrust, death, and ruin—at personal, regional, national, and international levels. Not all at once, but over time. Not as a tight tit-for-tat arrangement but as a principle of human history that sees evil sloshing freely throughout the world as the prophet Habakkuk discovered.
As one current and tragic example of this chaos the religious radicals who recently attacked Paris would have been convinced of their own rightness. By killing ordinary people and tourists they believed they were defeating immoral representatives of crusading Westerners: the people who refuse to submit to the version of Allah they embraced deserve to die.
Were they right in pressing their own version of good and evil on Paris? Is ISIS the true source of God’s will for humanity? Could the West actually be guilty for its dismissal of God and its past invasions of Middle East countries? Is ISIS right to reject Western atheism, materialism, licentious sexuality, and secular justice?
Or is ISIS wrong and the West right? Is ISIS terrorism intrinsically evil: a massive moral distortion even in the face of perceived wrongs from the past? And with that, don’t we in the West have the endorsement of sound and enduring civilization on our side? Don’t the personal freedoms and self-fulfillments of democracy express an inherent rightness compared to the lethal claims of the Paris killers?
The point is that in such debates each side presumes a keen sense of self-righteousness. By their personal and national measures they are holy while others are evil.
And that’s been true throughout the ages. Were the Japanese right to seek self-protective measures at the outset of WWII? Or were the Americans right to have blocked their economic aspirations? Were the Germans right to invade Poland to extend their national security? Or were the Allies right to bomb Dresden? And was the Soviet Union right to subjugate many of their neighbors after the war as a defensive measure?
In their own day the answer to each of these questions was different depending on who was asking. And with the distance of decades we can now see how often the aphorism “might makes right” formed such judgments.
That brings us back to our first question: what will it take for us to “know” Yahweh—revealed to us in Christ Jesus—as the sole ground of righteousness? When the day of final judgment arrives will our personal views of morality prepare us to meet with God?
The awkward answer is that God is still allowing disasters that answer, “no!” We are still living in the folly of trying to be “like God” and are finding terror, death, and corruption as the fruit of our relative autonomy. So his promises should haunt us as human efforts to bring about competing versions of justice slosh back and forth with dire consequences in world history.
But a day will come when all that gets straightened out. And in the meantime God has been gracious to send his wooing Spirit. So Jesus, by the Spirit, has awakened some people—his “sheep”—to hear his voice. We know him and his father; and we follow him.
In the meantime we can expect more wars and rumors of wars. At least until the cycles of life finally end. And then we all will all know that only Yahweh is God.
So please, LORD, come quickly!