Friday, September 21, 2012

God Grief

Recently, my sister Lauren and I have been commiserating about the death of our debate coach, Michael Bacon. He died about 5 years ago, a suicide. It took me years to wrestle through the feelings of guilt that weaved their way into my grief.

Mourning is so weird, the way it hits you in the strangest places and times. I’ll never again eat beef jerky or drink Doctor Pepper without thinking of Michael. I have certain Bic pens that even remind me of him. Now, as I am once again in a tough inner-city school for the first time since Newburgh Free Academy, that old vague sadness or nostalgia comes trickling back.

Grief is weird.

But recently I was reading the Bible, and a certain passage struck me. It’s in Ezekiel 28, and I’d recommend you read it.

In this part of Ezekiel, God announces judgment and wrath upon many nations, including Israel. They had continually rejected his offer of love and graciousness, choosing instead to worship fertility goddesses, warrior gods, and material pleasures. At the start of Ezekiel 28, God prophesies against the “prince [nagid] of Tyre,” in other words, the rich ruler of the wealthy, arrogant trading city in modern-day Lebanon.

“‘Because you think you are wise,’” God says,
    ’As wise as a god,
7 I am going to bring foreigners against you,
    the most ruthless of nations;
they will draw their swords against your beauty and wisdom
    and pierce your shining splendor.’”

Pretty standard stuff, as far as the Old Testament is concerned. God is always humbling the proud while lifting up the humble. I repeat, the rhetoric of judgment and wrath here is very typical stuff.

But later in Ezekiel 28, God makes a sudden, uncharacteristic shift in tone. In verse 11, God now tells Ezekiel to “take up a lament concerning the king [melek] of Tyre.” Why is God taking up a lament, an ancient song of mourning? And why is God now talking about the King [melek] of Tyre, not the prince/ruler/nagid of earlier in the chapter?

Let’s look to the text:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
You were the seal of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13 You were in Eden,
the garden of God;
every precious stone adorned you:
carnelian, chrysolite and emerald,
topaz, onyx and jasper,
lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl.
Your settings and mountings were made of gold;
on the day you were created they were prepared.
14 You were anointed as a guardian cherub,
for so I ordained you.
You were on the holy mount of God;
you walked among the fiery stones.
15 You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created
till wickedness was found in you….
So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God,
and I expelled you, guardian cherub,
from among the fiery stones.
17 Your heart became proud
on account of your beauty,
and you corrupted your wisdom
because of your splendor.
So I threw you to the earth;
I made a spectacle of you before kings.
18 By your many sins and dishonest trade
you have desecrated your sanctuaries.
So I made a fire come out from you,
and it consumed you,
and I reduced you to ashes on the ground
in the sight of all who were watching.’”

To me (and many scholars), it’s clear. While before God was talking to a human ruler, now God is talking to Lucifer, the archangel who turned to the Dark Side and became Satan. Lucifer was ‘perfect,’ on the ‘Mount of God,’ a ‘guardian cherub,’ ‘beautiful and blameless,’ in ‘Eden, the garden of God’… metaphorically covered with precious gems just like everything in Heaven is. But then he ‘became proud’ and ‘corrupted,’ and was thrown down from heaven. Now a fire comes out from within Satan and consumes him. He who had once been the morning star, is now only ashes…

But why does God start out proclaiming judgment against an earthly ruler, and then start a lament for Satan?

The fall of Lucifer...
I think that God is reminiscing. God misses his incredible, beautiful friend, and in the middle of prophesying against a self-absorbed human God remembers a certain archangel who was similarly self-absorbed. ‘I am a god...I am a godI am a god…’

To return to my original thought: as humans, we are made in the likeness of God. If we mourn our friends who have passed on, we can know it’s ok. As we see here, God mourns too. ‘For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses…’ God knows our weaknesses and our pain. He knows the bitterness of betrayal. He knows the agony of letting go of the ones we love, of knowing that they’re never, ever coming back.

But because he loves us so much, he chose to change that. He chose to take all the suffering, all the betrayals, all the consequences of sin upon himself, so that we could be freed from the cycle. So that we can return, so that we can come back to the ones we love. By enduring the ultimate betrayal from his second-in-command, Judas, Jesus willingly entered into the same pain that God had already suffered with Satan.

Jesus took the blame on his shoulders, and was separated from God, just like Satan had been. This time, it was Jesus who was ‘driven in disgrace from the Mount of God.’

Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
A cry that ripped the Temple curtain in two
most likely tore God’s heart too.
But this time, it was obedience that suffered,
obedience that suffered
so that the human betrayers
might have a chance to peel off layers
of the sin that so easily entangled
ever since human nature was mangled.
By the fruit we were seduced,
so God tried to work through the Jews,
but they (and we) ran off to other lovers,
so the Word chose to become flesh like his brothers,
and now we have a choice to decide,
of where we’re going to choose our side:
‘Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in heaven?”
Well hell, it’s better to serve on earth, than to ever
choose separation from God forever.

Jesus was betrayed and died; God’s heart was pierced a second time. But out of despair: a miracle. Resurrection. The legend of the dying God, brought back to life, was no longer legend. It was reality. And through this death and resurrection, humans can now enter God’s presence.

God will still grieve those who turn against him. True, he grieves knowing that he made every attempt to reach out to them. But I wonder how often those words rise up from arrogant humans on earth, the words that carry him back to the time before time, to the same words first spoken by Lucifer: 

I am a god…..”

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