For some unexplained reason, over the past month, I have been confronted by writing and philosophy related to collapse and catastrophe. It seems that every direction I turn, I stumble over responses to the question of what to do when things fall apart. The following passage is taken from The Message, the Bible in Contemporary Language. I came across it while researching some lectionary resources for the Lenten reflection project that I have been working on with my brother Thom and photographer Bob McGauley.
This is commentary preceding the book of Ezekiel - a major prophet during the time of Israel's invasion by the Babylonians. It is in that ancient context that Ezekiel wrote his story. If you have a good teaching bible, it's worth reading all of Ezekiel.
Catastrophe strikes and a person's world falls apart. People respond variously, but two of the more common responses are denial and despair. Denial refuses to acknowledge the catastrophe. It shuts its eyes tight or looks the other way; it manages to act as if everything is going to be just fine; it takes refuge in distractions and lies and fantasies. Despair is paralyzed by the catastrophe and accepts it as the end of the world. It is unwilling to do anything, concluding that life for all intents and purposes is over. Despair listlessly closes it eyes to a world in which all the colour has drained out, a world gone dead.
Among biblical writers, Ezekiel is our master at dealing with catastrophe. When catastrophe struck in 6th century BC...denial was the primary response. Ezekiel found himself living among a people of God who stubbornly refused to see what was right before their eyes (the denial crowd). There were also others who refused to see anything BUT what was right before their eyes (the despair crowd).
The denial people refused to see that the catastrophe was in fact catastrophic. How could it be? God couldn't let anything bad happen to them. The despair people, overwhelmed by the devastation, refused to see that life was worth living. How could it be? They had lost everything.
Ezekiel showed the denial crowd that, yes, there was catastrophe, but God was at work in the catastrophe, that they would be able to embrace God in the worst of times...especially in the worst of times. He showed the despair people that God was and would be at work in the wreckage and rubble, to create a new people of God.
Whether through denial or despair, the people of God nearly lost their identity as a people of God. But they didn't. God's people emerged from that catastrophic century robust and whole.