Love…that is all

Hosea is a book of wild extremes.  As a prophet of the most High God, Hosea, son of Beeri, receives a message from God that is both redemptive and, for the prophet, personally alarming.  “Go, take a wanton [woman] for your wife, and get children of her wantonness;” (Hosea 1: 2 New English Bible)  Wow.

So God calls and Hosea answers – and in faithfulness to the call of God, Hosea and his wife (Gomer) name their daughters Lo-ruhamah (which means not loved), and Loammi (which means not my people)…and their son, they call Jezreel – God-sows.  The complicated message is carried throughout the book which bears his name; Hosea and his family (two families, actually, but that’s another story…) serve as living examples of the state of the relationship between the two kingdoms and the Most High God.

Israel and Judah have enjoyed a brief historical renaissance – life is good in the two kingdoms – and as a result, the people have turned from their first love.  God has become secondary to national pride.  The metaphors used by the prophet are adultery and  prostitution.  The first ten chapters outline God’s case against the people; they have trusted in their own might – they have offered their worship to foreign gods.  Their devotion to the One who redeemed them from slavery has faltered.   But what is also at work throughout the prophetic poetry of Hosea is the undeniable love that God maintains for this wayward, stubborn, complicated people.

It can be hard to imagine, in any generation, that God could love us at all. We have just finished a six-week study that concentrated on a single verse of Scripture, John chapter 3, verse 16.  We spent six weeks wondering what it meant that “God so loved the world…” – during a time in history that has seen fear ‘trump’ love in almost every imaginable way; mass shootings, the horror in Nice, France, a priest killed as he said Mass – not to mention the political shenanigans south of the border; look where you will, love seems in short supply, and yet…

“When Israel was a child, I loved him…but the more I called, the further they ran from me.” So begins the eleventh chapter of Hosea.  God has called the prophet to act out the nation’s unfaithfulness – the shameful, ugly, all-to-human pattern of national pride is on display in Hosea’s personal relationships and in the names of his children.  God’s prophet has brought to light behaviours and attitudes best left in the shadows, and still God cannot ‘un-love’ the people.

If you read carelessly – if you imagine that God acts according to some binary sense of right and wrong – and if you imagine that the poet/prophet possessed an absolute sense of God’s “right” and our “wrong”, then you will hear in most prophetic works what sounds like the “promise” of wrath.  It is easy to hear “…They shall return to Egypt…The sword rages in their cities” – as God promise of revenge, but it is more likely a prediction, based on experience.  The Lord knows (as does the prophet) that Israel’s past pride has led to a kind of lawlessness.  History reminds us that when humanity claims salvation by our own hand, and when we seek prosperity for the sake of prosperity, trouble is soon to follow.

Massive egos are revealed; political processes are left behind; ’might makes right’ becomes the compelling slogan; and the resulting ‘competition’, to be right or to exercise power brings with it horrible consequences, especially for those without power, or those who are labelled “wrong”.

The failure of society to acknowledge it’s inherent brokenness – the inability of the human race to consider that there are things at work in Creation that defy our understanding or control – these are components of what the church calls ‘SIN’; these are the failures that lead to destruction, not because God wills it – not because God is vengeful – but because God (and God’s prophets) have a sense of history that eludes the majority of us.  SIN may well be the thing that consumes our interest and drives much of our thinking about God, but SIN is not God’s main preoccupation – not now; not then; not ever.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?  How can I hand you over, Israel?”  This is not the plea of One who is bent on retribution, or obsessed with obedience.  The word of God here addresses a people whose failures are beyond counting – and they (we) are addressed, not in anger or with an ultimatum, but in an attitude of desperate devotion – of true love.

It is tempting to take the easy way out – the way of proud, pious certainty – and declare that God wants’ righteousness first, so we must be obedient, flawlessly faithful; endlessly observant to the multitude of ‘conditions’ that spring up as a result of our fallen condition.  The history of church-led persecution – campaigns against those condemned as heretics; crusades against Muslims; witch trials; the oppression of women; support of slavery; residential schools; vilification of the LGBTQ community – ours is a history fed by the desire to satisfy a flawed understanding of God’s righteousness.  Each of these efforts has drawn the church into questionable, and decidedly un-Christian behaviour.  And every time, in every generation, God’s heart-felt cry through the prophet Hosea breaks through the noise of our efforts to excuse or explain ourselves.  The deep devotion of God – God’s endless, boundless love – has been our salvation.

Life is complicated; a life of faith, even more so.  Jesus seems to set a pretty high standard for us, but God is not looking for perfection – God, it seems, is always ready to love us.  No matter that we turn our backs; even when, in Jesus’ case, we would kill the messenger of love, God continues to love us.  That remains our hope in hopeless times.  That love continues to be our true salvation.  Thanks be to God.  Amen

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