“I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22.30)
Speaking from exile in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed God’s judgment on the sins of Jerusalem and the wickedness of her spiritual leaders. God likened Israel’s situation to a breach in a wall. There was a glaring gap in her spiritual and moral life which made her vulnerable to enemy invasion.
God said, “I sought for a man among them who would make a wall and stand in the gap.” The context of the prophecy suggests that God was looking for a righteous king or prophet who would turn the people’s hearts back to Him. But alas, He found ‘no one’, and as predicted, the city was penetrated and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies some seven years later in 586 B.C.
The apostle Paul elaborated on the idea of a moral and spiritual breach in his letter to the Romans. He highlighted the ‘gap’ between an utterly righteous Creator God and His sinful, disobedient creation: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3.23). He then proceeded to describe how God, through His own initiative, bridged that gap: “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Rom 5.10).
The word ‘reconcile’ means to re-establish and restore an intimate relationship that has been broken or disrupted. It signifies the removal of an enmity and the rectifying of a wrong — in this case, the sin that separates humankind from God (Isaiah 59.2).
In Second Corinthians chapter five, Paul took the concept of reconciliation a step further, declaring that God has not only reconciled humanity to Himself through Jesus Christ, but has given us ‘the ministry of reconciliation’. He described himself as an ‘ambassador’ or authorised representative of Christ, and said that through him, God was pleading with people to accept His grace and be reconciled in righteousness (2 Cor 5.18-21).
In effect, Paul saw himself as one ‘standing in the gap’ between God and humankind, seeking to connect the alienated creature with the benevolent Creator through the proclamation of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Church has an unprecedented opportunity to bridge the gap between a lost and desperate generation and a God who, in the words of Bette Midler, seems to be ‘watching us from a distance’.
Indeed, the psychological toll of the pandemic may be far greater than the impact of the virus itself. Suicide modelling from the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre has predicted a potential 25-50% increase in the number of people taking their lives in Australia over the next five years. And concerningly, researchers expect this projected increase to disproportionately affect younger people.
On May 7th 2020, Dr Tony Bartone, President of the Australian Medical Association, Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director of Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre, and Professor Patrick McGorry, Executive Director of Melbourne University’s Centre for Youth Mental Health, issued a joint statement entitled “COVID-19 Impact Likely To Lead To Increased Rates Of Suicide And Mental Illness”.
The statement calls for “long term modelling and investment in mental health to guide critical decision making in social, economic, and health policy to help Australia transition out of the coronavirus pandemic.” It concludes with these words: “We must act quickly to increase key capabilities before the surge in demand for mental health services becomes evident.”
Whilst the statement is directed at Government departments and agencies, it could very well be a prophetic challenge to the Church for “long term modelling and investment to guide critical decision making to help Australia transition out of the coronavirus pandemic.”
To put it simply, our whole ethos of preaching, teaching, and Christian community life needs to be reappraised in the light of the pandemic and its aftermath. There are questions that need to be answered before we get back to ‘business as usual’.
Are our words and actions addressing people’s deepest felt needs or merely indulging our religious traditions and biases?
Are our words and actions facilitating personal empowerment and self-actualisation or merely perpetuating a system of dependency and control?
Our response to these questions will determine whether or not we are able to repair the breach and restore peace and justice to society (Isa 58.12). Let’s hope that this time we get it right.