Does God Have a Split Personality? – Ezekiel 5
My relationship with Marcie (not her real name) took several permanent steps backward when she called up my parents one day and told them she wanted to kill me. According to Marcie—who, up to that point had been a casual friend—the flash point for her murderous thoughts was a conversation from years earlier, which Marcie apparently had remembered selectively and fixated on.
That previous conversation was mildly memorable to me too, mostly because the question that prompted it had seemed to come wildly out of the blue.
Marcie: “Lisa, do you get A’s in school?”
Lisa: “Yeah, I get some A’s. But it’s not that important to get A’s in school, Marcie.”
She wanted to kill me, she was now saying, because of the A’s. According to a report given by authorities a couple days later, a bigger reason was that Marcie’s guardian had been ill, and as a result Marcie had stopped taking her meds.
On one hand, Marcie posed no plausible serious threat to me. It seemed reasonable to believe that with her medications back on schedule, her mind would sort out properly. Plus she was a tiny woman on a limited income who at that point lived 200 miles away from me and had no driver’s license.
Aside from concerns about my safety, though, there remained the issue of my sanity. That mental space had suddenly become complicated. How do you deal with someone who has shown such enormous deviation? How do you arrive at a scenario where you even want to deal with that person again? It agitated me, just thinking that Marcie and I might cross paths again someday. To distrust Dr. Jekyll for always, must you meet Mr. Hyde only once?
Which brings us, some would suggest, to the question of God’s character in a Bible passage like Ezekiel 5. Here Ezekiel, a priest and a prophet to the nation of Judah, relays from God a memo of horrific destruction. God’s people have been disobedient to their covenant with him, and in response God vows, for starters, that his people’s fathers will eat their sons and vice versa (verse 10). A third of the nation will die by misery or starvation, he proclaims. A third will be killed in conflict, and a third will be scattered and chased by killers while on the run (12). That makes one, two, three thirds.
He promises to make Judah a desolation. He promises to vent and spend his fury on her (13.) His stated intent is to make his supposedly beloved people—epitomized in Jerusalem, his holy hill—“a reproach…in the sight of all who pass by” (14.) He’ll bring “more and more famine” (16) and to send beasts that will rob them of their children (17.)
Verse 11: He will withdraw. His eye will not spare. He will have no pity.
There is a way of reading this passage that assumes a Hyde-side of God: a hardened, heartless half-villain who sometimes breathes fire to keep people down, simply because he’s on top and he can. One who sometimes couldn’t care less about who or what gets burned when he’s bothered or offended. Or who simply kills arbitrarily. Sometimes.
“I will withdraw. My eye will not spare. I will have no pity.” The fire-breathing god says this with haughtiness and a sneer. But note the small “g,” because this is not the God of the Bible.
The basic assumptions we make about character, even God’s character, are rooted in the character we know best: our own. And even the best of us must confess a character that can be—which is to say, that is—arrogant, power-hungry, manipulative, vengeful, lusty, deceptive, self-interested, harsh, jealous, cruel. How could we expect anyone, or even any One, to be different?
But we cannot read into God by reading ourselves. We must understand him by searching the whole story of Scripture. In doing so, we find a character wholly unlike our own. This character is never incompatible with perfect love. This God is consistently, unchangeably captivating. We see it when we know to look for it. It is here even in the carnage of Ezekiel 5.
Thus shall my anger spend itself, and I will vent my fury upon them and satisfy myself. And they shall know that I am the Lord… (13.)
This is the God of the Bible: his anger has an end point. Scripture reminds us of that fact over and over and over.
God’s wrath is released in restrained doses on his holy hill and elsewhere over the course of biblical history, but it is unleashed fully and finally only on the hill of Calvary. There, God puts the total punishment for all humanity’s sinfulness—mine, yours—on the one person who shared his heart’s beat and who hadn’t sinned at all. He does it to eliminate death once, finally: to rescue those he loves from the death-penalty of our sin, granting us the righteousness that his son’s life earned.
At the defining moment, he does not withdraw. He comes close. His eye spares fully. He has more than pity: mercy.
We cannot let the lesser events and circumstances that God allows and initiates in our lives—not even the horrific ones, the agonizing ones, the ones that shred our guts with unspeakable anger or sorrow—outline this God. They are not the ultimate event. They are illuminated by it: the deepest betrayal and the most vicious death in history happened to God himself. He endured it for us, so we could access the one love that gives unending triumph and joy.
To him be praise for all that he does and has done.
Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy… (Psalm 43:3-4a)
Lisa Velthouse founded Pick Your Portion as a way of encouraging herself and others to choose the good portion every day. Without accountability, she tends to save Bible study and prayer until “a better time,” which typically doesn’t happen until she’s too tired to keep her eyes open. Lisa has been working in publishing and public speaking since the age of 17, releasing two books —Craving Grace (a memoir) and Saving My First Kiss (for teens)—contributing to two other collaborative books, and speaking to audiences across the United States and abroad. Once the “2000 Brio Girl” for Focus on the Family’s Brio magazine, Lisa served for a time on staff at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, and has written for a number of publications. Lisa is married to Nathan, an active-duty Marine Corps infantry officer; together they have one young daughter and live in southern California. LisaVelthouse.com.