In the spirit of always being reminded that 2020 is the year that keeps on giving, I woke up in the wee hours to read this tragic news:
Popular Christian author, speaker, and TV personality, Jen Hatmaker, has filed for divorce from her husband, Brandon. The 46-year-old mother of five filed papers on August 21 in Hays County 22nd District Court in Texas. The filing doesn’t give any details, other than that the fact that the case is open and involves children. Jen and Brandon Hatmaker have been married since 1993 and have five children. Together, they host the HGTV show Your Big Family Renovation, a reality TV show that features the couple fixing up homes for large, growing families. The Hatmakers also founded Austin New Church in Austin, Texas, where Jen Hatmaker remains on the board. On July 31, Hatmaker revealed on Instagram that her family was in a painful place and requested prayer. “In short, we are deeply hurting in our little life,” she wrote, adding: “Our family is navigating an unexpected crisis, and I’ve taken a step back from socials and work to help steer toward healing and wholeness. Please know that everyone is safe, and our kids are okay.”
I had been scrolling around the internet in search of odds and ends about the Enneagram, and had just discovered that Hatmaker has recently done a whole series of podcasts on that subject, one about each number, and was steeling myself to push play sometime this afternoon, but now I’m going to take a day off, yet again, to pray for her and her family. Which is fitting, as it is Sunday, and it is better to turn our attention to the scriptures, which seem to me both poignant and pertinent at such a time as this.
This morning’s gospel reading, for example, you’ll be sad to discover, is full of thorny lines like, “that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” and “if two agree on earth about anything they ask” and “if your brother sins against you go to him.” That last line is particularly hard for Christians to believe actually applies to them in a direct and personal sense. Like, you’re not David and you don’t need to go on a Daniel diet because you’re not Daniel. But you do, when you have a problem with someone, need to go to them directly with the goal of being reconciled and winning over your brother or sister, because Jesus commands you to here, instead of going to literally everyone else in the world. And yet countless Christian people have looked me in the eye and said, “I just don’t feel peace about that,” and “Jesus wouldn’t want me to do that.”
Leaving that to one side for a moment, let’s take a gander at Ezekiel and see what he has to say. Remember, you’re not God in this scenario, no matter what anyone says about you searching around inside yourself for the divine. But that knowledge shouldn’t prevent you from stepping inside the story to see what’s what.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
So, just to recap, the word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel, which, remember, is not usually a very comfortable experience for him or any of the other prophets. Sometimes it is curious, sometimes alarming, occasionally comforting, but most of the time it’s painful and involves difficult activities like being commanded not to display any sign of grief when your wife dies. In this case, the word of the Lord is a little parable. So there you are, wandering around on the top of the wall, because the people of the land have put you there to watch out for “the sword” that the Lord (the “I” up there in the text) promises to bring, and you’ve been put there on purpose to “sound the trumpet” when you see that sword coming. If you sound the alarm and all the people snug in their beds do not “take warning” as in wake up and realize that disaster is about to fall and they need to take some kind of action to avoid this catastrophe—we can get in a moment, to what that action might be—then you there on the wall don’t need to worry. You gave the warning and no one listened. When everyone dies it is not your fault.
If on the other hand, says the word of the Lord, you there on the wall, you watchman, you decide not to “blow the trumpet,” well, then when catastrophe falls and the whole city is killed, you are guilty of all those deaths. Well gosh, you think, why wouldn’t I warn everyone that the sword was on its way. I don’t want anyone to die.
But it’s complicated, isn’t it? Israel didn’t wake up in the morning and say to herself, ‘You know what I’d like best? To Die. To do everything that will lead me to an eternal, perishing death from which there will never be any relief. In service of this desire, I will reject the source of my life—God. I will not follow in his ways. I will not keep his commandments. I will sacrifice my children. I will make offerings under every single green tree on the way to Sabbath services. I will commit adultery and defraud the poor and use false measures and…’ the list goes on and on. No, every morning they woke up and said, well, probably most of them said very little and thought about it less, as we all do. I don’t awake in the rosy-fingered dawn with the intent to hate my neighbor in my heart. I just want to surf the internet a little while I drink my morning oolong. When someone like Jen Hatmaker veers sharply off the rails of Christian orthodoxy, and drags hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of Christian women along with her into the darkness, she is not trying to be bad, she is intending to do good in the way that she understands it.
Anyway, the word of the Lord goes on—interminably in some cases:
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
That’s the money question. “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” And rather than stare bleakly at this ancient text and wonder what on earth it has to do with anything, why is it important to heed the warnings given on the page, and from the pulpit, and from the mouths of those who love you, instead enumerate to yourself the number of things you would rather do and believe than coping with the narrow way of the God of Israel, a God who says hard, but clear things. Some of them are so clear that they can’t be looked at in the face, that no one even talks about them anymore because they are not practical, are not “loving,” and will absolutely get you hated by the world.
But let’s go back to that “sword” that the Lord brings, and what the warning is even for. When the trumpet sounds, or when someone comes to you and says they have a problem with you, or they think you have sinned—either against them or in general—what ought you to do?
Go on Facebook and Twitter and bash away at that person? I mean, words like “sword” and “trumpet” and “watchman” clearly indicate a war, a fight for life and death. Maybe you should gird up your loins and go into battle. The warning is probably apocalyptic and all about how you should vote for someone who will make all the enemies go away. Or maybe you should go hide. Or maybe you should just not worry about it because sin, though bad, is not as pressing a concern as what you will eat for dinner or how to pick your way around a protest that has intruded itself upon your neighborhood.
I mean, it is a war. But you aren’t really a combatant, not in the usual sense. When the trumpet sounds, when someone comes to you to say you’ve sinned, you only have to ask yourself, as honestly as you can, ‘why am I so bent on death?’ You can heed the call and…wait for it…repent.
Repentance, unlike self-justification, brings about the unity people like Hatmaker tirelessly strive after. If you look at her Twitter feed, you’ll see an exhausting effort to bring about peace and justice on the earth—goals even I cannot really complain about. But she must do them herself, on her own, without God, because when the trumpet was blown loudly and clearly, she did not repent. Instead, she refashioned the Christian project to suit her own desires and that of the world. She is not alone. We’ve all done it in small ways—through cowardice, apathy, selfishness, confusion, bad teaching…our list is as long as that of ancient Israel. We don’t want a God who says anything about sex or marriage or the deep passionate search for ourselves. We want to keep our idols and still go to church just the same. Death is easier. Who cares about the watchman out there on the wall.
Fortunately, knowing this, the word that comes to Ezekiel, The Word who leans in to explain to his disciples about how they are going to have to live as the church, has a sword coming out of his very mouth, not to destroy you, but to cut you open and make you well. Seriously, go to church, you exhausted idolator, and be reconciled to God, to your neighbors, and even to yourself…also, pray for the Hatmakers, all of them.