Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts on Hosea

I’m baffled by those who’d turn over the award for Best Romance to Ruth or Song of Solomon. Ruth isn’t romantic at all. The men who say so are fooling only themselves. It’s all about opportunism of a divinely-sanctioned sort. And the variety of romance found in the Song of Songs isn’t anything with which anyone nowadays can – or cares to – identify. Of course, that might be the case simply because no one’s quite sure what the storyline is.

Now take Hosea:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
And there I will give her her vineyards
and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,
as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
- Hosea 2:14-15 (ESV)


But like the best romances, this is a tragedy (only one with a promise of a happy ending). God uses the maternal affairs of His prophet to illustrate His own love for His people who have turned away from Him (i.e., “played the whore”). The pain felt along with the longing to set everything right is present in the text. There is tension between justice and mercy, punishment and reconciliation (cf. Matthew 1:18-25).

Interestingly enough, God doesn’t share His woes to solicit pity. He demands empathy. The “children of Israel” are no more faithful to each other than they are to their Lord. The daughters are prostitutes, dragging the family name through the mud, and the wives commit adultery, la traïson. God uses these examples to show how much the Israelite’s infidelity insults Him. Those who are unfaithful to God do not deserve justice when others sin against them (Hosea 4:14). Taken from a different perspective, as told in “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant,” we owe others mercy precisely because God has shown us mercy (Matthew 18:21-35; cf. Luke 17:3-4).

That’s probably one of the most difficult lessons in the whole Bible: taking the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12; Luke 3:31; etc.) and its negative form to a natural conclusion. God offers us forgiveness with the expectation – dare I say, under the condition – that we reciprocate by offering it to our fellow man. This is one of those principles that sounds great in church but doesn’t make it out the front door after the service lets out. We each have our own list of unpardonable sins. My own list concentrates on episodes involving heartbreak, public shame, childhood trauma, and devastating long-term consequences. As petty as these might seem from a larger perspective, these are serious obstacles to completely healing my relationships with others.

The question running through my mind is not “why,” since I know I must forgive others, but “how.” When we have to live with the repercussions of others’ poor judgment, it’s difficult to forgive. When others perpetually sin against us, we argue that they’re not genuinely repentant and therefore undeserving of forgiveness. Showing mercy on others becomes a daily chore of astronomical proportions. We’re obligated to do this, but how can we bear it?