By Alex Florez
I will never forget my dad sitting me down to tell me he was leaving. My parents were getting a divorce, and he was returning to his native home in Colombia. “But,” he said, trying to comfort me, “I’ll see you again soon.”
This is my most vivid memory of a man I haven’t seen in over 35 years. He stopped communicating with me when I was seven. This is where I learned never to trust anyone ever again. All promises were lies, and all people were suspects.
When I first encountered Jesus my junior year of high school, I’m confident I wouldn’t have been ready for the promise God made in today’s reading. God assures us here of two things I simply didn’t have the capacity to understand or to receive.
“I will give them integrity of heart and put a new spirit within them” (Ezekiel 11:19). The Hebrew word translated here as “integrity” is echad, or “one.” This implies unity and presages a sense of shared belonging amongst a community of heretofore disenfranchised and scattered people. The end of verse 19 defines the composition of this newly unified heart: stone would be transformed to flesh. This metaphor envisaged something I’m sure the conquered people of Jerusalem would have thought impossible given the widespread desolation and hopelessness they faced.
My own experience—in light of my father’s permanent absence—left me feeling disconnected from the world, and my heart felt like nothing more than pulverized rubble. Therefore, the prospect of receiving a new heart seemed wholly implausible.
But when God stepped into my consciousness, it was the person of Jesus Christ and the investiture of the Holy Spirit in my life that changed everything. This is what the season of Lent reminds us of—that it’s not the promise itself, but rather the person who makes the promise that makes the difference. Because our God is faithfully committed to the renewal of His people, His promise to change hearts is being fulfilled all the time and all over the world—even for broken, bitter vessels like me.
If I had read Ezekiel 11:19 as a teenager, I would have scoffed at the notion of receiving a new heart. However, my encounter with the person of Jesus began a change in me that would allow the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This encounter gave me a glimpse into the depth and integrity of my heavenly Father’s heart, and this was the manner in which God began transforming my entire life.
Should I ever stand face to face with my father again, all the old wounds might flare up for a moment. But, because the one who issued the promise of a new heart is faithful, I believe my dear old dad would not encounter a hard, cold, impregnable fortress of anger in my presence. Rather, he would experience a gentle, warm, inviting sanctuary of peace in which I would be honored to tell him about the sweet and mighty love of Jesus.
All is forgiven, Pops. Isn’t God so good?!