I still don’t have internet at home, which is hampering my blogging activity somewhat. But I’m hunkered down at work this afternoon trying to make all of the necessary cyber connections before I go back into my own beautiful and unconnected wilderness.
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It seems that Hosea can’t quite decide if God is punishing or saving the people: “God has torn us to pieces, but will heal us.” “Will not Assyria rule over them because they refuse to repent?” “All my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger.”
According to Hosea, the people of Israel are sinners in the hands of an ambivalent God; a God who cannot decide whether to punish or save. A God at once angry and full of compassion. It’s a confusing book to read if you are looking for theological answers about God’s response to sin. . . .
I have to be honest with you about this book. I find the whole “marry a whore” thing terribly troublesome in terms of the attitude it presents toward women in general and the dehumanization of Hosea’s wife, Gomer, in particular. I find the words about God destroying people quite troubling. Hosea would probably be one of my least favorite books in the Bible . . . except for one day in Dr. Koch’s seminary class.
Dr. Koch was my New Testament professor at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He had also been my Dad’s New Testament professor at Eastern. He was not a particularly dynamic or emotional man. I began entertaining myself in his class by making a list of odd, quaint words and phrases he would use like: sticky wicket, fly in the ointment, and penchant.
I can’t tell you why we were talking about Hosea in New Testament class. But I distinctly remember this slight, gray-haired man telling us about the prophet. How he married a prostitute and loved her. Just the way God loved and continues to love God’s people despite our unfaithfulness, despite our sin. And as he talked about the message of Hosea, he had tears in his eyes.
I’ve had a soft spot for the old guys ever since–both Dr. Koch and Hosea.
While Dr. Koch’s tearful account of the message of Hosea was oversimplified, while it neglected a lot of the complicated and troubling aspects of the prophet’s life and message, I think he latched on to the central image from the prophet: God as parent.
We heard this lovely metaphor from the eleventh chapter of Hosea:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.
But the more they were called, the more they went away from me.
They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms;
but they did not realize it was I who healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love.
To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.”
This metaphor of God as loving parent cannot, of course, answer all of our theological questions or iron out all of the sticky wickets we run into when we think about our sin and God’s response to it. Still, I think it is a helpful metaphor. Good, loving parents respond to their children’s disobedience, or sin, in different ways at different times. Sometimes they do punish their children–with the hope of helping the child avoid more serious consequences in the future. Sometimes they let their children suffer natural consequences. And sometimes they swoop in and shield the child from consequences that seem too harsh, too hard.
And so perhaps God also punishes and allows consequences and shields us.
I still think Hosea is a troublesome, conflicted book. Yet in the midst of the theological chaos, two truths seems clear:
1) Human beings sin–we hurt each other; we damage our relationship with God.
2) God loves us deeply. Anyway. Always.
Thanks be to God.