That God is a jealous God has been a critical statement in spiritual formation and religion for many generations. To say that it is a difficult concept to wrap one’s mind around is quite an understatement. How is it that we interpret such a statement in light of who God is; in light of basic Orthodox Christian Theology? It has and remains to be a difficult feat to undertake. However, to complete one’s theology and to gain an understanding of the covenant relationship between God and His people, it is a feat, however monumental, that must be attempted. “Ezekiel and the Heart of Idolatry” can be a guide for the believer in trying to shed light on the question at hand.
In the above mentioned article, Mr. John Day wrestles with the writings of Ezekiel and provides for the reader a relatively orthodox and uncontroversial interpretation of what the author of Ezekiel is speaking in reference to Israel as the Exodus fades into the pages of its history. Israel may very well have completed the physical exodus from Egypt, but as with many of us, spiritually never did fully exodus from slavery. Ezekiel was written both to shed light on and give hope to Israel in the midst of their disobedience. Mr. Day is successful in highlighting and providing a basic interpretation of this account.
It is proper to begin an essay on Mr. Day’s article first by quoting what is possibly the most compelling statement taken from his hand. There about half way through his article Mr. Day reaches a profound conclusion in stating “ ‘Half a heart’ is a heart filled with idols.” It is quite possible that this statement could be used in summarizing the whole of Ezekiel’s writing, and is a great place to begin an essay.
The Book of Ezekiel is a book of prophetic literature again aimed at spiritual inconsistencies related to the Israelites. Israel has long been plagued by this pattern of drawing near to God when convenient and walking away from the covenant when idolatry prompts them to do so. Here we find Ezekiel prophesying judgment upon Israel for their whoredom and idolatry. The whole of the book focuses on the individual and community setting up places of worship within their hearts not reserved for Yahweh. If these places of worship are not reserved for Yahweh, then to whom do they belong? According to Ezekiel, any void in ones heart not reserved for God will be devoted to idolatry, for God is an all or nothing god.
It is here that we return to a statement within the article written by Mr. Day, “ ‘Half a heart’ is a heart filled with idols.” It is interesting when one compares The Book of Ezekiel and Mr. Day’s article to the current trauma and waywardness that evangelical religion finds itself in. Warning, this is where the implications of this article can become controversial. The nation of Israel was convinced that they were spiritually invincible. After all, they were the nation with whom God dwelt. They boasted a mobile tabernacle in which was placed the Ark of the Covenant upon which the presence of God resided. The Evangelical Church boasts in its large buildings, record attendance, its perfect doctrine, its financial contributions, all as proof that God resides among them. Or is it? If the heart leans heavier to the material byproduct of religion, boasting in it as if it were proof of righteousness, all the while ignoring the idolatry involved in such spiritual arrogance, is that sect truly devoted completely to Christ and His work? Can religion become an idol? I say absolutely so.
What Ezekiel speaks of is not just external idolatry-pornography, worship of images, but internal idolatry. For external idolatry is merely the outward expression of idolatry deep within the chasms of the heart. If one finds herself holding tightly to that which creates a void between her and God, that is a matter rooted in the heart.
Ezekiel speaks to a nation who had been removed from the source of its captivity and the influence of those captors, set free to worship Yahweh. But the influence of years of captivity and years of being influenced by secular religions had taken its toll on the people of Israel. As we see in the pages of “A Tale of Two Cities” by Dickens, you can remove the captive from its captivity, but it is much more difficult to remove the captive mindset from the captive, so to speak. As Mr. Day states, “Their geographical location had been forcibly changed, but their disposition had not.”
The remarkable undertone of the book is the thought that a nation could live in such hypocrisy. That a whole nation could boast of their righteousness, yet maintain these altars of idolatry within their hearts. The sad truth is that we live among such people, that we exist as such people, that we worship in churches devoted to such hypocrisy. It is the fate of organized religion unless there be a reset.
Mr. Day highlights the three instances in which God speaks to the nation of Israel amidst their idolatry. First, God responds, “Should I answer?” Second, He responds, “I will answer-but not the way you intend.” To bear the weight of such an answer, hearing Ezekiel prophesy the nature of that response would be a blow of the greatest magnitude. For this answer meant judgment. God returns, “I will set my face against you.” This coming in conclusion to their setting their faces against God. One can only imagine as the divine answer was spoken, the heartache and pain that resulted, both among the heavenly bodies and the people of Israel.
As Jesus walked along the road, he approaches a fig tree that bore no fruit. No one among the party questioned whether this was a fig tree. To them this was obvious. But there was no fruit among its arms. Jesus’ response, He cursed it and it died. Such is the response to hypocrisy. We may proclaim we bear fruit, but proclaiming is merely vibrating the vocal chords and forming it into intelligible language. It is entirely different to appear as righteous, call oneself righteous and bear the fruit of the righteous, the fruits of the workings of the Spirit of God.
As Ezekiel points out, idolatry will result in our proclaiming our loyalty to God while, in our hearts, remaining betrothed to another. This, however, is not the end of the story. For with God there always remains hope. The third response Yahweh gives is, “Repent! Turn away your faces from all you abominations.” As Day points out, God will in the end do what they could not do. He will fulfill His promise, “that they may be my people, and I may be their God.” This is the divine solution to idolatry, and unless it occurs in the hearts of individuals, it will never occur in the church.