Monday, October 28, 2013

Ezekiel and Toy Story... Who Knew?

The life of an Old Testament prophet, Ezekiel, became the focus of discussion during a recent Sunday school class I teach.  I challenged our youth with a question about how a negative event could be designed by God.  Take for example Ezekiel.  He was called by God to be a prophet.  He was personally tasked rather heavy responsibilities and warned of personal consequences if he didn’t do what he was asked to do.  He had incredible visions and very powerful spiritual experiences where angels or even God would speak to him concerning future events.  During Ezekiel’s initial call and several times throughout his prophetic career God very clearly told Ezekiel that he was speaking to a stubborn people who would not listen to him.  Ezekiel seemed called to a futile mission, one in which he should not expect any results.

“If you’ve ever sat with a grieving family… I’m sure you’ve encountered such thoughts”

The force of my question to the youth came from chapter 24 of Ezekiel’s own book.  The message from God tells him that Israel’s fate is sealed and there is nothing that can be done.  Judgment is certain.  At this point in Ezekiel’s life God has told him that he would not be respected, the people would not listen, he would be made fun of, and that there is no chance for Israel to avoid their coming punishment.  THEN, don’t miss this, THEN God tells Ezekiel that He is going to kill his wife, his beloved, and that Ezekiel’s response to her death is to be the next message to a doomed people.  Wow.  One honest student was brave enough to admit that he struggled with the picture of a God who could preform a seemingly cruel act against one of his faithful servants. 
I think any honest person will admit that they occasionally struggle with situations in which God appears to be ignoring, insensitive, or cruel.  If you’ve ever sat with a grieving family or spoken with someone who just received word of a potentially terminal disease ravaging their body you likely have encountered such thoughts.
While the teens in my class wrestled with this Ezekiel’s relationship with God, I was struggling to come up with a way to make this a positive learning experience for them.  I didn’t want them leaving depressed or afraid of their God.  Then it hit me.  Toy Story.  My kids love the movies.  Toys competing for playtime with their owner, afraid to be replaced every birthday and Christmas.  The toys stated purpose was to “be there” for Andy, their little boy owner.  In the second movie the main toy character Woody, a cowboy with a pull-string, slowly gets pushed aside for a newer more high-tech toy named Buzz Lightyear, a space ranger.  The pain and despair of the older toy is clearly captured as he finds himself increasingly neglected.  Woody’s mindset was clearly depicted as a desire for usefulness, for purpose.  For a toy it was far better to be used and possibly damaged fulfilling his purpose as a toy than to be in perfect working order and forgotten or unused.  It would be better to be broken and played with in a little boys hands than to be perfect and sitting on a shelf. 
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus spoke of this kind of dedication to God when he mentioned that it would be better to make it to heaven maimed than go to hell whole.  Even the Apostles expressed this mindset when in Acts chapter 5 they counted it a blessing that they were found “worth to suffer” for His name’s sake.  The common thread found in Ezekiel, Jesus, the apostles and even Toy Story is that is it far better to be damaged in the Master’s hand than to be unused and far from Him.

“It is far better to be damaged in the Master’s hand than to be unused and far from Him”

The truth of the matter is that Ezekiel most likely had a better grasp on the eternal than 99.99% of people in history.  He saw God high and lifted up, was taken places by the Spirit, and spoken to regularly by God.  If after all of those experiences Ezekiel still believed that all there was to life was what we experienced during our short 80-100 years of living, I would be amazed.  It isn’t a stretch for me to believe that in the mind and understanding of Ezekiel death was not an end but merely one experiential segment of our eternal journey.  Did he miss his wife, his beloved, I’m sure he did.  Did he ache for her when she was gone?  Absolutely.  Did he ever regret submitting to be used by God?  Doubtful.  If life can get that bad for Ezekiel while in the Master’s hands, imagine how bad it could have been if he wasn’t.
I hope my experiences with God give me the faith and strength to genuinely believe that a life spent in the hands of God (regardless of the final cost) is better than a life wasted apart from Him.  Honestly, though, I pray I never have to exercise that kind of faith statement.  My admiration extends to those who already have.  Thank You for your example.