Margins of Miraculous – Man, Do you see this? by Shawn Blythe

There is a verse in the Bible that has always struck me with its simplicity in illustrating humans’ limited understanding of what God shows us.  It is a great picture of how God shows us the miraculous, but we are just not able to comprehend what we are seeing.

The verse comes at the end of a rather lengthy description of a river flowing from the temple that God is showing Ezekiel in a vision (Ezekiel 47).  This river begins at the temple as a small stream and roughly a quarter of a mile downstream is only ankle deep.  But another quarter mile downstream, it is now knee deep; and a further quarter of a mile it is now waist deep.  The final quarter of a mile reveals a water that is deep enough to swim in and a river so wide that “no one could cross”.  It is at this point that the man escorting Ezekiel turns to him and asks: “Son of man, do you see this?”

The implication of course is that this river and its mysterious increase in depth as it flows from the temple should have an obvious meaning to Ezekiel.  The assumption is that after leading Ezekiel in specific, measured distances from the temple (and pausing at each interval to gauge the increasing depth) that he could not help but understand what he was being shown.  Ezekiel’s answer is not recorded and perhaps it is because, like me, he didn’t have one.

The river flowing from the temple has clear references to the purifying waters of the brass basin at the entrance to Solomon’s temple.  Ezekiel would have been quite familiar with this as he likely served as a priest before Solomon’s temple was destroyed.  However, the purifying symbolism of the water in the brass basin would not likely sufficiently illuminate the mystery of this river.  As a result, if I were Ezekiel I would be at a bit of a loss.

By my count, the book of Ezekiel records four other times in which Ezekiel is shown something and then asked, “Do you see . . .?” and they are all in chapter 8.  The first is when he is shown an idol at the entrance to the north gate of the inner court of the temple (verse 6).  The second is when he is shown what the elders worshipping idols in secret, seemingly unaware that God knows their deeds (verse 12).  The third is just a few verses further down when Ezekiel is shown women worshipping a local Mesopotamian god at the temple entrance (verse 15).   The fourth is toward the end of the same chapter where he is shown 25 men between the portico and the altar in the temple, but all of them facing east (away from the altar) worshipping the sun (verse 16).  In each case, the audacity of the Israelites to turn away from God and worship inanimate objects instead – even in the temple – is clearly shown and the meaning is not difficult to understand.  In the case of sin, particularly other peoples’ sin, the message is clear.  If I am Ezekiel, I can easily answer the question of “Do you see . . .?” with a confident, affirmative nod of clear understanding.

But when we move from sin and the consequences of sin to grace – things get a little murky.  Sin is clear.  It is all around us and it is our fallen nature.  We see depravity, we experience jealousy, and we call things good that are not good.  We worship at the feet of whatever idol makes us comfortable that we don’t need God – whether it be wealth, professional achievement, physical fitness, fame, fashion, indispensability, knowledge, etc.  As I plod through the filth inherent in a world of sin, I am crystal clear on how to get dirty.  I can get dirty all by myself.

But when it comes to grace, this is not natural to me.  The kind of grace, cleansing and healing that God offers is confusing and we approach it with skepticism.  It is unnerving that the grace of God can wash away my sins.  As Ezekiel considered the river flowing from the temple and pondered the meaning, I wonder if his thoughts were the same as mine might have been.

The entire sequence starts with God telling me to look, listen and pay attention.  I am then shown a dizzying array of measurements and directional instructions which I dutifully record knowing that there must be meaning in there somewhere.   There are measurements of walls, gate thresholds, alcoves, projecting walls, porticos.  There are distances between alcoves, distances around the walls, and details like palm trees decorating the projecting walls.  And after doing this on the East side, he goes to the North gate and the South gate repeating the same measurements and confirming they are identical.  By the time I am done, I know the jambs on the temple portico are five cubits wide while those on the outer sanctuary are six cubits wide and those on the inner sanctuary are two cubits wide – but likely have no idea why.  It is against this backdrop of these meticulous measurements that I am taken on a mile long hike alongside a river that somehow increases in depth with no obvious source for the additional water volume.  I am then asked, “Son of Man, do you SEE this?”

Yes, I see it with my own eyes.  Just like the details of the temple that are I chronicled as instructed. I have surveyed the entire area and noted the measurement of every nook and cranny. I have walked alongside the river and likely waded in its refreshing coolness. I have experienced it firsthand and am convinced of its reality.  But despite all of this, when I am asked the question “Man, do you SEE this?”  I have no answer because I have no clue how this all fits together or what it is supposed to mean to me.  I am a passenger on this tour and no matter how many porticos or alcoves I am shown or miles I walk alongside this miraculous river I will inevitably disappoint my tour guide with a blank look devoid of even the basic understanding of what I am seeing. 

It is like handing an advanced calculator to a three-year-old.  They may hit some buttons and be mildly entertained by the numbers that appear on the screen.  They may even love the gift because of who gave it to them – but beyond that its meaning and capabilities are lost on them.  But still I try.  I attempt to translate my love of mathematics to this three-year-old by showing how the calculator can quickly do trigonometry.  I illustrate how the memory function works.  I explain the programming functions.  And as the child’s attention begins to wane, I exclaim: “Hey! Do you SEE this?”

I have been shown countless examples of God’s grace. And yet, like the people of Israel, I am constantly distracted and find myself wandering amidst unfamiliar territory.  Like the author of so many Psalms, I feel alone, and the challenges of this life are just a bit too much at times.  I know there is a plan but cannot find it.  I see things that apparently have meaning, but I am unable to grasp it. 

But when all seems lost, I feel a gentle hand on my shoulder turning my attention in one way or another with the question: “Son of man, do you see this?” 

I typically don’t . . .  but often that’s not what is important.  What is important is the hand on my shoulder.  A constant reminder of God’s presence, care for me and the existence of a path – even though it is not apparent to me.  I may not understand the grace that is before me.  But God does, and that is – and needs to be – enough for me.