hope in the cemetery
It had been a very tough couple of years. The traditional, comfortable symbols were being lost, and it looked as though life would never be the same. Some people were even asking whether there was any hope that the people of God would survive. After all they had been through, maybe this was the end.
Ezekiel found himself drawn once more to the same quiet cemetery where he had been going to find solitude. This probably was where his own wife had been buried, where his personal hopes and dreams for the future had been painfully laid to rest. He was beginning to wonder if perhaps the future of Israel was being buried here in this strange land. There didnt seem to be much interest in either repentance (for what?) or renewal (of what?) in the life of Israel. Their identity, their way of life, their confidence and their faith had been shattered. What Babylon had done to them was not supposed to happen. After all, they were Gods people and deserved better. Is it possible that the nation could survive this tragedy?
In this cemetery, God asks, Ezekiel, do you see any hope here?
(Son of man, can these bones live? Ez. 37:3). Ezekiels grief and
despair whispers the way many of us are feeling
Lord, no human
being can find hope here, only you can see that. (Lord, you alone
I can imagine a modern Ezekiel sitting at Ground Zero in New York or Washington, D.C., or in Pennsylvania wondering to himself, How can anything good come from this? We have all wondered that same thing. How we react in the aftermath of tragedy says a lot about to whom we turn when we feel helpless and how we expect the future to be built again.
Today our strong feelings lead to strong and hostile language. People replace hope statements with believe concepts. We often have done this in the past, reaffirming what we believe about God in an attempt to reassure ourselves that the future is secure. If these believe statements truly represent our faith, then it seems to me that we should trust in that God. But persons making such statements often turn to the government and military to make the future livable for them (often by making the future unlivable for others).
Where do we go in times of fear and despair to have our faith strengthened? Where is the source of our hope? After more than 20 years of teaching Biblical Literature, text after text and story after story run through my mind where hope literally springs to life out of the seeming despair and tragedy that struck first Israel and then the new faith community of Jesus.
King David paints a delightful contrast in Psalm 11. There is danger all around and his friends advise him to flee because the situation is hopeless, yet David affirms his steadfast trust in God. He admits that people are shooting at him and that his friends are asking, When all hope is gone, when the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? Surely David is fighting a lost cause. The moral and theological foundations of society are crumbling under the evil that people do to each other. Where does David find the courage to continue on? His response is indeed comforting: The Lord is in his holy temple the Lord examines the righteous the Lord is righteous and loves justice, and the upright will see Gods face.
For David, the source of hope is forcefully influenced by where you focus. We have heard a great deal about the evil that is being done to us with the frequent implication that there is no logical reason for it but for David, focusing on the evil in the world leads to despair because there is so much of it. When we affirm again our belief that ultimately it is not evil that controls the world but God, then we can see that God is still bringing redemption and healing. The world changes, but God remains.
What dominates our thinking these days? Certainly there are reports of food being dropped for refugees and many stories of people making heroic sacrifices and helping others get through their grief. We even see a slight upswing in religious practices. But overwhelmingly, the focus is on the unjustified evil done unto us and how we who are righteous must punish those terrible people who have done these things.
Does the word of hope from David speak to us as well? Our hope rests
in the assurance that God does not run away and hide, that God can be
counted upon to be there in our time of grief and pain and that, ultimately,
hope rests in God.
If we believe that God is still on the throne, then we have no time to
get involved in retaliation and destruction. We struggle with the concern
about whether God has left us, when our primary response should be to
ask whether we have left God. When we affirm with David that God is still
in His temple, then Gods vision for a better world where peace,
justice and love dominate calls us to do the things of God. In that way,
nothing has changed even though everything has changed.
Don Blosser retired from full-time teaching at Goshen College at the end of the 2000-2001 school year; he continues to teach a college course and to serve GC through the CALL grant as an itinerant ambassador for the college.
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