There is a way to make theology so abstract that it loses all meaning to us. Take for example the essential idea of salvation. We can so easily speak of our salvation without giving much thought to what lies behind it. Within the church we can talk endlessly about salvation and yet fail to think about what we are being saved from, or what we are being saved to. Salvation then becomes a part of our Christian jargon, but it rarely is defined in a tangible, even earthy, way. Of course, this can happen with any number of the creeds and doctrines of the church – they remain floating in the realm of the abstract instead of imbedding themselves deep within the concrete realm of our thinking, actions and imagination.
One way to guard against falling into this rut is to read and meditate on the prophets of Israel. These prophets knew how to make God’s word tangible: something the listener could touch, see, or taste. They often used pictures, actions, or dramas to get their point across. There are many examples: Isaiah’s Immanuel child, Jeremiah’s linen belt, Hosea’s prostitute, Joel’s locust, Amos’ plumb line, or Zechariah’s flying scroll.
One especially striking example is the prophet Ezekiel. God had a message for his people which was basically this: “You and your precious city will be besieged and you will suffer my wrath because you go on sinning terribly without thought of consequences.” The people of God had stopped up their hears, stiffened their necks, and refused to believe the bad news of judgement. And so God sent Ezekiel to shake up their view of the world and themselves.
What was Ezekiel commanded by God to do? Basically he was to act out a drama of the coming siege on Jerusalem. He was to draw a city on a clay tablet; build little siege works, battering rams, and camps around the city; place an iron pan between the city and himself; lie down on his side for days on end; eat food cooked over cow dung; shave his head and beard and then burn, slash, scatter, or preserve the hair.
They say actions speak louder than words, and one can imagine that would be the case with Ezekiel’s actions. People would have noticed a prophet building battering rams and siege ramps. They would have noticed a prophet who spent most of his time lying on his side and eating a strange diet. Surely it turned heads when he chopped all his hair off and began hacking away at it with a sword. And that was the point – for people to take notice. They may have ignored earlier messages preached in the town squares, but now they could not help but notice the prophet and his dramatic actions.
If the people connected the dots, they would realize that Jerusalem would soon be under siege just like the clay tablet surrounded by miniature siege works. They would realize that they would suffer greatly and would eat defiled food just as Ezekiel did. They would realize that God’s wrath would indeed come down upon the people and they would be put to the sword and scattered about just as Ezekiel’s hair had been. They would realize that there was a small glimmer of hope for a remnant, just like the small strand of hair which Ezekiel tucked into his robe.
Did the people believe the message? We are not told if anyone took Ezekiel’s drama to heart, but as a whole, the people of God ignored the warning – continuing in their sin and taking grace for granted. The siege came as prophesied, along with the sword and the scattering of the people into exile.
Do you believe the message? Do you believe God’s wrath against evil, including the evil in your own heart, is real? Do you believe that going to church, caring for the poor, and trying to be a good person do not make you right before God? Do you believe the salvation of God is available for all? Do you believe Jesus bore the brunt of the punishment you deserved and suffered the shame which was to be yours? Do you believe that God snatches from the fire those who trust in Jesus, and then tucks them safely in the folds of his robe of righteousness?