“We are wasting away because of our sins. How then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10)
The people who uttered these words were exiles removed from Jerusalem and held captive in Babylon. The exiles were holding out hope that one day they would be set free and could return to Jerusalem. Things would be the way they were before they left. Being exiled would serve as their punishment and it would one day be over. Life could get back to normal. But, in this chapter the exiles received word that the people back in Jerusalem had rebelled against the Babylonians again. In response they sent an army and destroyed the city. The Temple itself had been completely destroyed.
The hope of going home was destroyed with it. Now they were exiles with no home to go back to even if they were released. Hope was low.
Remember the story Jesus told of the Father who had two sons? The one that we always refer to as the “Prodigal Son” left his father and went away to a foreign country and squandered everything his father had given him. One day he found himself alone, in a foreign country out of money, out of luck and out of hope. He had hit bottom. He didn’t know what to do. The only thing he knew to do was to return to his father.
The exiles found themselves in a similar place. They had hit bottom. They had ignored the warnings of Ezekiel and the other prophets and now there was nowhere else to turn. The only thing left was to return to the God they had not followed for a long time.
They asked Ezekiel, “How then can we live?”
Ezekiel related God’s response. God said, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” I am going to pause right there for a moment. Sometimes that is hard for us to get our heads around. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. If we are going to be honest we have to admit that God may not, but we do. We like to see our enemies get theirs in the end. We call that justice. God longs for even our enemies to repent and be spared. God calls that grace.
“Turn!” God says, “Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?”
The word “turn” is the Hebrew word, “Shuv.” It literally means, “turn.” Here he says, “Turn you, Turn you.” But, it is often translated as “repent.” At its core that is what repentance is. It isn’t saying words in a prayer. It isn’t joining a church. It is actually making a turn in the direction of your life. It means you are changing direction. You used to be going in one direction, living for yourself, and then you turn and head in another direction, living for God.
I love this exchange between the exiles and God. Overwhelmed by their own sins they cry out, “How then can we live?” And God responds, “Why will you die?”
We say, “God, how can I go on?” And God replies, “Why would you not go on?”
We say, “God, how will I ever get through this?” And God responds, “Why would you not get though it?”
We say, “God how am I ever going to make it?” And God says, “Why would you not make it?”
I am on your side. I love you. I forgive you. Turn around. Walk with me. You will make it. You will live.