In Ezekiel 9, the Lord unleashes a small band of men with powerful weapons against His people as the consequence of their turning away from Him and living wicked lives. But before these powerful weapon-bearers are permitted to touch a single soul, He sends out also a servant with pen and paper.
This servant's job is to go through the streets and encounter each and every living soul and determine whether that soul serves God or not, loves God or not. If it does, that person receives a mark on the forehead, and the posse moves on. If the person is not marked, out come the weapons and the person is killed, only seconds after being rejected by the servant with the pen and paper.
But here's the thing: Ezekiel doesn't tell us what the servant does with the paper.
The pen, of course, could be used to make the marks. It could be used to write on the foreheads of the faithful. But the paper? Maybe the paper just makes the guy look more official. You know, like giving him a clipboard or something. If someone knocks on your door with a pen, you might wonder what this crazy guy is up to. But give him a clipboard, and you know he's legit. Maybe the paper just makes this servant of the Lord legit.
As though anyone sent by the authority of God, with a posse of armed angels behind him, needs any help looking legitimate.
Maybe he was keeping records. Maybe the paper was for the servant to write down the names, in two neat columns, of those he marked and those he did not mark. For collecting bodies later. Or handing out awards. Or whatever. Like Santa's naughty and nice list; the servant of the Lord must be writing down marked and unmarked. Bill - marked; Bobby - slaughtered.
The trouble with this idea is that it puts us into a theology that's difficult to swallow. Here we are face-to-face with a God who keeps lists, and if God keeps lists here, what's to keep Him from keeping lists in other places? For other things? For any reason. Actually, this is exactly what we tend to think about God, and many of us spend far too much time wondering which of God's lists we're on at any given time. Are we on the nice list? The naughty list?
It also brings us into a theology where we are not much more than names to God, an inventory of creatures, if you will. God collects persons the way we collect baseball cards. Oooh...He's got a 1985 Aidan. (That'll go for a good 5 cents.) Quite an impressive collection, God. As though God is just walking around some museum or something, looking at each of His persons in little glass cases, His treasured possessions. Actually, we think this about God, too. That we are just part of His collection, that we rotate in and out of display cases as His tastes and seasons change. That we are, to God, just one of many.
Neither of these, then, is theologically pleasing. We don't really want a God who keeps lists, and we aren't too keen on being the possessions of a collector. Which brings us back to the servant of the Lord in Ezekiel 9.
What was the paper for?
I think it was for notes. I think it was for scribbling ideas about His next chapter. I think it was for looking into the eyes of men and women and writing down some character development ideas, some ideas about how things are going to play out as the story continues to unfold. I think it was for coming upon the characters in God's story and sketching out where things might go from here, maybe even sketching out some knots to tie up loose ends. Because I don't think even the wicked just die here; I think the servant scratches notes of redemption on those papers. I think he figures out how to reconcile the sinner and the wounded heart, even after the character seems to have been written off the page.
And this...this is good theology, I think. Because it invites us to understand God as author. As someone whose characters are always on His mind. As someone who keeps the story front and center. As someone who is always thinking ahead to the next chapter or two. As someone who understands that a good story is only as good as its ending, but the middle can't be boring, either. As someone who burns the candle longs nights when He's under the inspiration of something good. As someone who captivates us with the finest details of how things come together. Not as a puppet-master, who speaks the lines of all of Creation, but as an author who gives His characters lines of their own.
Yes, I think the servant must have been taking notes. Because God is an amazing author.
And He's always working on this incredible story.