Is There a “Dark Delight” in Prophets Who Foretell Doom? A Consideration of a Text from Ezekiel

Blog-08-09Today’s reading from daily Mass (Tuesday of the 19th Week of the Year) features an unusual image and a seemingly “dark delight.”

It was then I saw a hand stretched out to me, in which was a written scroll which he unrolled before me. It was covered with writing front and back, and written on it was:  Lamentation and wailing and woe! He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. … I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth (Ezekiel 2:10-3:3).

The reference to eating a scroll is likely allegorical. The direction to eat the scroll of God’s Word probably came while Ezekiel was in a prophetic state, a state of ecstasy during which prophets often received their message. But whether allegorical or literal, the point is that Ezekiel and all of us must allow the Word of God to enter us deeply and become part of our very substance. The Word of God needs to “stick to our ribs” (as I find ordinary food does so easily in my advancing age)!

But there remains a kind of “dark delight” for us to consider. The scroll Ezekiel ingests was said to consist of lamentation, wailing, and woe, yet Ezekiel says it was sweet to the taste.

Was Ezekiel delighting in the looming destruction of Jerusalem? Why would lamentation, wailing, and woe be sweet to the taste? Was Ezekiel delighting in the darkness? Was there an unholy vengeance at play here? What could be sweet about woe?

Perhaps an analogy will help us to understand what tasted “sweet” to Ezekiel. Consider a man with cancer. Because surgery is painful and costly, the first treatments attempted involve chemotherapy or radiation. Over time, it becomes increasingly clear that surgery will be required. The decision is to operate is made and a date is set. It is major surgery and thus will require a lengthy recovery period and significant physical therapy. As the date approaches, though the man laments the need for surgery and the likely pain to follow, a strange peace comes over him, even an eagerness to be done with it. Though lamentation, wailing, and woe are at hand, beyond that there will be healing. Thus with a kind of sweet joy, he experiences a strange relief as the surgery day arrives. He says to himself, in effect, “Bring it on! Let’s get this over and done with. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s time for this cancer to go, despite the cost.”

Perhaps this was Ezekiel’s experience of the sweetness of even a hard prophecy that would not only harm what and whom he loved, but would also afflict him with exile and the pain of loss. This had become necessary because the people were unrepentant and the injustices growing ever worse. Over and over again Ezekiel was told that the people were stubborn, that they did not listen, that their foreheads were brass and their necks were iron. Now it was time to lance the boil, to do the only thing left to bring about the needed healing and change. Yes, it was a lamentation and a woe, but it was necessary and the time had come. There was a “sweetness” in knowing that God would deal with the spiritual cancer accordingly and that injustice and sin were going to be dealt with.

Thus, it was not a “dark delight,” for the delight was not in the darkness or the pain itself, but in the end of injustice and sin. The sweetness was in the restoration of at least some sanity, health, and the beauty of truth.

Some of us who comment on the current condition of our culture and warn of coming judgment are accused of this sort of “dark delight.” Some have written me off, saying that they think that I want this to happen, that I want to see us all destroyed.

While I can’t speak for everyone who comments on the current state, I can say that I would prefer a quick and remarkable repentance that will save the nation and culture I love. I also know that lamentation and woe will make my own life much harder, even downright awful. My only “delight” in a chastisement is the healing that might follow for the generations to come. But I pray that I want what God wants. If patient waiting is His will then so be it. If dramatic chastisement (as in Ezekiel’s day) is His will then so be it. Do what you need to do, Lord.

I understand that some will see this as vindictive and even unpatriotic. Jesus and St. Stephen, who spoke of the coming destruction of the Temple, were also thought by some to “want” the destruction and even to be plotting to bring it about. Jesus wept over ancient Jerusalem and her coming destruction. He preferred her repentance but knew that it would not come (Jn 11:35). Thus, for Jesus (and surely for Stephen, too) there was no dark delight, but rather a gut-wrenching lament; they both ultimately paid dearly. I ask only for a heart made ever purer, a heart that weeps for sin (my own and that of all), a heart that seeks only the happiness and wholeness that comes from God’s vision for us.

One Reply to “Is There a “Dark Delight” in Prophets Who Foretell Doom? A Consideration of a Text from Ezekiel”

  1. Monsignor,
    I, for one, want you to continue writing about the Biblical prophets and remind us that God’s message of repentance was not only meant for the ancient people of Israel and Judah but for us, as well, in these troubled times.

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