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In Exile with Ezekiel: God’s Empowering Presence

In my thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the River Kebar, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God […] This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. He said to me, Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

EZEKIEL 1:1, 28; 2:1-2

Until fairly recently, western Christians have enjoyed a sense of being at home in the world. Not completely, of course, but able to exercise significant power nonetheless.

That tide has turned.

We might not be facing outright hostility, and nor have we been completely removed from places of influence, but today’s culture seems more alien to Christianity than it used to be. Increasingly, Christians are having to learn what it means to ‘sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land’ (Psalm 137:4).

Although it’s easy to overstate the case, it’s as if we’re in exile. This description – which reverberates through the pages of Scripture – captures something significant about our identity and our mission. It involves recognising that we do not yet live in our ultimate home, even as we serve the Lord where we are here and now.

Recapturing the language of exile may help us understand some of the cultural changes taking place and allow us to see the life to which we are called – where the goal is not simply to survive in order to get through, but to be shaped into a people who bear God’s saving presence in and for a broken world.

What does being a Christian look like in such a context? What will prevent us from being absorbed into a culture that so powerfully shapes our identity? What will ensure our faith is more than just a bolt-on activity or accessory to an already-full life?

We need what Ezekiel received as he kicked his way along the banks of the River Kebar in Babylon – a vision of the glory of God. A vision which shows God is not restricted or contained, but real and present with his people. A vision which anticipates the one who would himself embody God’s presence, the one who ‘made his dwelling among us’, of whom Christians are able to say: ‘we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).

If exile provides an opportunity to be faithful to Jesus in the time and place in which we live, Ezekiel’s vision of God’s kingly glory reminds us that God will not abandon us, but will make himself present to us, fill us with his Spirit, and give us a task to do.

Antony Billington
Theology Advisor, LICC

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