BaptistWay: Where responsibility lies

• The BaptistWay lesson for May 4 focuses on Ezekiel 18: 1-18.

Ezekiel 18 captures the prophet in action, carrying out the call God gave him at the beginning of the book. He delivers a message of personal responsibility. In the past, God judged his people collectively and he would do so again, but Ezekiel insists this is not the only way God judges. Ultimately, he will judge individuals based on their own decisions and actions, leaving no one but themselves to blame for their fate.

The allure of choice

This aspect of God should serve as both a warning and an encouragement. As people who value individual autonomy, it’s easy to recognize the latter while downplaying the former. The film Divergent provides commentary on our society’s preoccupation with individuality. It is set in a future dystopia where all people must join one of five factions that dictates the values and regulations they live by. Before going to the “choosing ceremony” to make this decision at 16 years of age, teenagers take a test to demonstrate the faction that best suits them. As Beatrice Prior completes this test, she is startled to discover she does not have an aptitude for a single faction but several, and is what her society has called “divergent.” Soon, she uncovers the truth factions’ purpose: They provide the illusion of choice so the government can maintain order and enforce control over the population.

Something about the uniqueness of Beatrice excites something in us. We cheer when she chooses not to be confined to a mold and to take on the establishment that tries to force her into one. Her uniqueness confirms we also are unique and in control of our destiny. This same allure must have been felt as Ezekiel debunked a common proverb that portrayed God as one who refused to recognized individuality and autonomy (vv. 2-4). Instead, he tells the people “everyone belongs” to God, and he will not judge them based on their parents’ sins (v. 4).

The consequence of choice

For all the freedom choice brings, the flip side is the consequence of our choices. To demonstrate, Ezekiel proposes several hypothetical situations (vv. 5-18): the life of a righteous man; the life of the man’s violent son; and the corrected life of the violent son’s son. The righteous man does what is right, does not worship idols or take advantage of people and follows the laws of the Lord. Ezekiel notes “he will surely live” (v. 9). His son, on the other hand, lives in an exact opposite fashion. “Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head” (v. 13). The son’s son, however, learns from his father’s errors and lives a life that mirrors his grandfather’s. “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live” (v. 17).

This does not mean we do not face consequences for the choices of others. The son whose father was violent lived with his dad’s temperament, perhaps facing abuse and neglect along the way. This undoubtedly affected the way he related to others and how he saw himself and the rest of the world. Perhaps trusting people was difficult, and he remained skeptical of intimate relationships or struggled with feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Just as some Israelites faced exile for the unfaithfulness of previous generations, this son experienced trials that came as a result of his father’s actions.

A testimony of choice

A Sunday school teacher in our church has an amazing testimony of how God used her ability to choose. As a young girl, her parents did not attend church, but she went because a church bus picked up her and a handful of kids in the community. After attending for a while, she decided to repent of her sins and follow Jesus. The contrast between her church and home life was drastic. Instead of allowing this to drag her down and pull her away from a life of following Christ, she chose to go in the opposite direction. Every Sunday, she woke up all her brothers and sisters, got them dressed and ushered them onto the bus with her. In her teenage years, she married a Christian man, raised her children in church, and now her children have their own families following Jesus as a result. She continues to share the grace she found in Christ with other women she mentors in our church, while her husband teaches Sunday school alongside her. Her daughter is our treasurer and sings in our worship ensemble with her husband.

A tagline on the Divergent movie poster proclaims, “One choice can transform you.” This is truest for those who follow the Lord. Not because the choices God grants us are illusions that exact his control, but because he allows us to take responsibility for our lives.

How are you using that responsibility for the glory of God and the good of others?

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