When hope is lost

It’s a good question – “Can these bones live” (Ezek. 37:3)? Not a question about the bones of a mighty army bleaching in the sun on a great battlefield that might have sparked Ezekiel’s imagination. And not a question merely about “the whole house of Israel” (v. 11) that those bones symbolized for him. It’s a perennial question about the cycle of life, a question for anyone who contemplates loss and wonders what hope there may be for the future. And today it’s a question about me, and maybe about you.

Ezekiel wasn’t thinking about bones, of course; he was dreaming about a nation that had tumbled into defeat and death and was now fading in exile. They had no more hope of becoming great again than you might have of putting flesh on a skeleton and calling it to life. And in his dreaming, he saw something more than a nation in decline. He saw that what seemed impossible for humans was possible for God.

And Ezekiel prophesied (vv. 7-10). He spoke God’s word of hope to circumstances of human hopelessness. “Our bones are dried up,” the people said, “and our hope is lost” (v. 11). He spoke God’s promise that their hopelessness would loosen its grip, and they would be restored (vv. 12-14). The Spirit of God, the Spirit of life, the Spirit that makes all things new, would return to them, and they would live again. So it came to pass for Israel that they returned home and rebuilt their nation.

This is a bigger story, however. As I said, it’s a story about anyone who contemplates loss and wonders what hope there may be for the future, which makes it a story about me, and perhaps now about you. It’s a story about the parts of us, maybe big, important parts – hopes, dreams, aspirations – that have shriveled up and died.

It’s a story about seeds of life and meaning we began to nurture in childhood or youth and then boxed up and put on a shelf and forgot about. It’s about dreams that starved and withered and disappeared. It’s a story about things in life we started with high hopes that were wounded and rejected by others, maybe even by our own practical selves, that never had the chance to become what they might.

Are those things only bittersweet memories that return with a dull ache? Maybe they’ve been forgotten, leaving only a deep, ill-defined yearning that we drown out with busyness. Or maybe, in one of those thunderbolt moments that comes once in a while, we discover we can speak to them a word, not of merely human hope but of God’s promise, so that they start to rattle, coming together bone to its bone, and so they are clothed in sinews and infused with the breath of life and stand again on their feet.

“To set the mind on the flesh is death,” Paul wrote, “but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). And he went on to write that “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you” (v. 11).

What part of you is the Spirit of God awakening now? Where is God’s breath blowing, the dry bones moving? Don’t try to direct the wind. Don’t even worry about where it is or where it may be going. Just look at the dry bones of your life and prophesy to them. Speak God’s word of hope, and let God breathe. And wait.

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