One of my favorite summer vacations was a road trip I took with my family the year I graduated high school. We traveled west to Yellowstone National Park then south through Colorado before returning home, but along the way, we made plenty of stops–one of those being Badlands National Park in South Dakota. In the Badlands, rugged rock formations rise abruptly from the surrounding prairies, juxtaposing the lifeless, uninhabitable, and eroding with what is lively and even flourishing.
Ever since I visited the Badlands, it’s the image that comes to mind when I read Ezekiel’s description of the valley of dry bones where the Spirit of the Lord asked him, “Son of man, can these bones live?” Ezekiel immediately reports his answer, “O Lord God, you know,” which upon first reading may seem like a copout, a shrugging “you tell me” to God’s question, but as we read on in the chapter, we find Ezekiel’s answer to be a profession of faith rather than a defeatist groan.
Ezekiel didn’t know what was coming next for the bones scattered before him, but God did. Ezekiel didn’t know what was coming next for himself or the people to whom he was prophesying, but God did. Ezekiel didn’t know, but he trusted that God knew. How do we know that Ezekiel trusted the Lord? Because when God told Ezekiel to preach to a pile of bones, Ezekiel preached. And then when God told Ezekiel to preach to the wind, Ezekiel preached. And when Ezekiel preached, God moved, connecting bone to bone and breathing life into a place where there was nothing but death.
God would go on to tell Ezekiel that this was a vision of what he would do for the utterly hopeless people of Israel, and just as in the vision, God would ask Ezekiel to prophesy His resurrecting work in the lives of His people, His Spirit in the hearts of His people.
Ezekiel’s vision invites us also to answer the question, “Can these bones live?” In the darkest situations you encounter, the most hopeless circumstances you face, the driest of spiritual conditions–can these bones live? And when we may be tempted to answer, “No, not here, not these,” Ezekiel’s vision invites us to answer in faith, “O Lord God, you know,” and then to proclaim the hope of new life to everyone to whom He sends us. Into spaces that seem lifeless, uninhabitable, and eroding, God is able to bring life and flourishing.