And I love when folks look right at me
and what I’m doing or have done,
And lay it on about how groovy I am
and that I’m looking grand.
And every single word makes me think I’ll live forever;
Never knowing that they probably won’t remember
what they said tomorrow,
Tomorrow I could be dead.
— 77s (“The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes and the Pride of Life”)
I’ve got another movie reference for you. Do you remember that scene in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail where King Arthur encounters the black knight? It goes something like this:
Knight: None shall pass.
Arthur: I have no quarrel with you, good Sir Knight, but I must cross this bridge.
Knight: Then you shall die.
…(Arthur chops the knight’s left arm off)…
Arthur: Now stand aside, worthy adversary.
Knight: ‘Tis but a scratch.
Arthur: A scratch? Your arm’s off!
… (Arthur chops the knight’s remaining limbs off)…
Knight: Right. I’ll do you for that!
Arthur: You’ll what?
Knight: Come here!
Arthur: What are you going to do, bleed on me?
Knight: I’m invincible!
Arthur: You’re a loony.
That’s the image that came into my head when I read the first 10 verses of Ezekiel 28. Tyre had decided that they were invincible. They considered themselves a god! After listing the nasty ways that God was going to destroy Tyre, Ezekiel indulges in this comedic barb:
They shall thrust you down to the Pit,
and you shall die a violent death
in the heart of the seas.
Will you still say, “I am a god,”
in the presence of those who kill you,
though you are but a mortal, and no god,
in the hands of those who wound.
(vv. 8-9, NRSV)
. . .
Humans have been wanting to be gods since just about the day we were created. Remember the serpent’s temptation to Eve? “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God” (Genesis 3:4-5, NRSV). The temptation worked, and the same temptation has been plaguing humanity throughout history.
The expression, “give him an inch and he takes a mile” comes into play here. God molded Adam out of dirt. (If you ever need a shot of humility, just remember that part of the story.) Then God breathed something of himself into the dirt and it came alive. The expression used in Genesis for this is “God’s image” (1:26). All humanity was created in the image of God, and given charge of the rest of his creation—yet we were not satisfied. There is still that nagging desire to be like God: to be God.
. . .
How has Tyre tried to be a god? Her prince made three claims:
- He claims to be divine: “you have said, ‘I am a god’” (v. 2, NRSV). Tyre’s prince was not the first ruler to claim to be a god. The Egyptians were making those claims before Ezekiel’s time, and the Romans (among others) were claiming divinity centuries later. There is something in the nature of extreme power that twists the minds of the powerful.
- He claims divine authority: “I sit in the seat of the gods” (v. 2, NRSV). The seat of a god would be the place where that god dispenses judgment. The prince of Tyre has climbed up onto that throne.
- He claims divine intelligence: “you compare your mind with the mind of a god” (v. 2, NRSV). The prince of Tyre is delusional. When you have a successful career, when you hold the very lives of everyone around you in your hand, and when your court continually praises your divinity, you might eventually begin to believe it.
. . .
Sure, most of us don’t walk around believing that we are gods in the all-powerful and wise sense of the term. That would land us a quick trip to the psych ward. Still, the old temptation pulls on us as we find ourselves acting like the god of our own worlds.
The Western exultation of individuality over community—the “I am a rock” attitude just plays into this deception. When we are our own person, unencumbered by the demands of community, it’s easy to start ordering our lives as if we were god. As if no one mattered but ourselves and our own desires.
. . .
One true God, thank you for breathing life into our mortal bodies. Remind us often that you are God and we are not, and deliver us from our own selfishness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.