Spirituality seems to now be what you want it to be. This has many implications, both obvious and subtle. Let me give an example. As a pastor I do not receive as many phone calls from people looking for a wedding officiant anymore and just this summer it dawned on me as to why. Google. I am old enough to remember the days when an unchurched couple looking for a wedding officiant would phone around the churches. Now they just Google it. So I tried Googling “wedding Cobourg” and must admit that it was somewhat of a reality check. There is no lack of officiants in the area willing to marry you, or fulfill some of the other celebrations that we clergy once almost exclusively took care of. What dismayed me most was that in the typical “hire me to marry you” blurb, there were no offers of pre-marriage guidance, no promises of talking with and walking with the couple through what the Bible has to say about love and marriage. Instead there were offers to individualize and personalize the wedding, so that the wedding could be exactly as you want and so that you will be happy at the end of the day. It seems that the means has become the end. The “perfect” wedding ceremony has become the goal when a wedding ceremony ought to point beyond itself, indeed beyond even the happy couple, to God’s gift of, and plan for marriage. It is fascinating and sad that “personalize” and “individualize” are words, but “Godize” isn’t. Many a wedding, not to mention a marriage, needs “Godized.” Many a spiritual or religious leader needs to take a lead in this.
In the prophet Ezekiel’s day there was a tendency for prophets to individualize and personalize their messages, rather than “Godize” them:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are prophesying; say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: “Hear the word of the Lord!” 3 Thus says the Lord God, Alas for the senseless prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Ezekiel 13:1-3 (NRSV)
The “prophets” were prone to saying what they thought the people wanted to hear rather than what God had to say. So they went about telling people to relax, that there was no danger. Ezekiel on the other hand heard God’s message, and then delivered it. Judgement is coming. Tough times are ahead. Not a message people wanted to hear, but it was true.
Ezekiel chapter 13 has much to teach a prophet, one who would presume to speak on God’s behalf. Let us consider some points. You may want a Bible handy (or click on the link above):
- In verse 2 Ezekiel is to say to the prophets “Hear the word of the Lord.” This is not something you would normally say to a fellow prophet, who should be dependable in speaking the word of the Lord. We would hope that all teachers of religion are hearing and understanding the Word of God before teaching it.
- In verse 4 the foolish prophets are likened to “jackals among the ruins”. In other words they are opportunistic just like the wild animals that would enter a city once it has been destroyed by an enemy. We would hope that religious teachers are leading from a place of servanthood rather than opportunism.
- In verse 5 the foolish prophets are said to have left breaks in the walls. That is, they do not help people defend against evil. We would hope that religious teachers are part of how God answers the prayers of the people “deliver us from evil.”
- In verses 6 and 7 the prophets are straight-up called liars. We would hope that religious teachers are honest and seeking, speaking truth.
- In verse 8 God tells the prophets “I am against you”. We would hope that all who are religious teachers never get into such a sorry place of having God against them. Therefore they should avoid being against Him like the plague.
- In verses 10 and following the prophets are said to be using “whitewash” to hide problems with the walls. I have come to learn that you can hide a multitude of renovation sins under a “whitewash” of drywall mud. However, a solid frame underneath is far more important than a good looking wall. We would hope that religious teachers are involved in some solid framing work.
- In verse 18 the prophetesses are spoken of as magicians and they are likened to those hunting for birds with nets. They trap people. We would hope that religious teachers are in the ministry of freedom, not entrapment.
- In verse 19 the prophetesses are spoken of as acting purely out of self interest, and worse they pervert the justice of God. We would hope that religious teachers are not in it for themselves, and point to the wonderful justice of God.
- In verse s22 and 23 the prophetesses accomplish the opposite of what God wants. We would hope that religious teachers are serving the will of God.
- In verse 23 it is assured that false prophecy and divination will come to an end. We would hope that religious teachers understand that anything false will not last, but the Word of God will stand forever.
- Also in verse 23, people need saved from the prophets. We would hope that people do not need to be rescued from religious teachers.
As we contemplate the above let us keep in mind that anyone who speaks their mind on spirituality and religion in effect becomes a “religious teacher” no matter their claimed religion or lack thereof. So this includes me, but probably also you. However, Ezekiel 13 pertains especially to prophets who claim to speak on behalf of the God of Israel. God has spoken in Christ and the Christian Church is called to a prophetic role in speaking on His behalf to the world. We want to be sure we are being consistent with what God has said, not what we might want God to say, or what people might want to hear. We run the risk of becoming foolish prophets when we try to make Christianity palatable. I forget who said it, but we are called to be salt, not sugar. We are called to shine a light, when people who have something to hide would prefer the dark. Light is not welcome everywhere by everyone.
But as we consider the trap of making Christianity palatable, let us remember that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is beyond palatable. God’s expression of love, justice and grace through Jesus is a most wonderful truth. It is the admission of sin that is the unpalatable part. No amount of whitewash, drywall mud, sugar, or darkness can make that part go away. And thankfully, in God’s faithfulness, nothing can make His grace in Christ go away either. With the wonderful truth of God’s love we would be out of our minds to speak out of our own imaginations.