Fellow Passengers: this week’s Promise Passage (2 Chronicles 36:11-21) tranports me to a Middle Eastern desert tent where a grand warlord dispatches messenger after messenger to bring unruly tribes into alignment with his prescribed way. Finally, after exhausting all mercy and finding no remedy, the warlord lays out a strategy of destruction and a reign of terror on the tribes, empowering a rival warlord to the north to lay seige and slaughter young and old alike, taking any survivors into captivity.
Sounds like typical Afghani political intrigue, until you change “tent” to heavenly throne room, and change “warlord” to God, and change “rival warlord” to King Nebuchadnezzar, and then you have the story chronicled in today’s passage. Many people have serious reservations and resistance to the image of God as a heavenly warlord, calling the shots for a chosen people who don’t follow the call, running out of patience and perpetrating massive violence and destruction as a punishment for the disobedience. It’s certainly not an image I’m comfortable with.
But what if the ancient chronicler painting this anthropomorphic, larger than life image of an angry God is simply telling us how life really works? Take away the image of the angry warlord God, and instead imagine (as if Ben Kenobi or Yoda were chronicling the story) God as the Life Force of the universe, the ground of being, the animating Spirit that sustains everything that is. Most living things instinctively trust that Force and live according to the way that sustains life. But some creatures don’t have that instinctive trust. Some try to sustain life on their own. Some head off on a delusional power trip to try and rival the Force of mercy and love. It is in the compassionate nature of the Force to send continuous warning signs to the strayaways, but often these signs are ignored. Drunk with the wine of the world the deluded folk forget who they are, stiffen their necks, harden their hearts, and mock the messages that call on them to give up power and come back to the Good Life. And there are consequences to this power trip. Life outside the Way is self-destructive; it leads to captivity and death. The creatures are essentially fouling their own nests, and the power trip eventually poisons the community to the point of implosion, leaving a path of destruction and captivity in its wake.
It’s a true story borne out by history. Power corrupts. Prophets cry out. People mock. Empires implode. But the chronicler’s story has an odd ending. It doesn’t end with destruction. It ends with God giving the land a much needed rest. The land gets a sabbath. People aren’t the only ones to suffer from the power trips of imperial progress. The land is abused in the process.
I wonder how this story will be born out in our world today. Our cultural addiction to power and the faith community’s collusion with a consumptive imperial lifestyle is certainly clear enough. There are certainly plenty of prophetic voices calling us to a simpler, more sustainable life in alignment with gospel principles. And there are plenty of folks on the airwaves putting the prophets up on the blackboard for daily battering. I wonder how long it will be before our land gets a sabbath break from it all. As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.