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Messy Grace: Lessons from Hosea

August 17 2015
August 17 2015

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At times, we all resonate with A. A. Milne’s character, Rabbit. Of course, Rabbit is Winnie the Pooh’s tightly wound friend who struggles with life’s setbacks. It’s easy, in the face of adversity or disappointment, to echo Rabbit’s familiar refrain: Why does it always have to be me?  Why? O’ Why? O’Why?

Indeed, at times it feels as though the forces of nature, the entire human race and even our own hearts have aligned against us. Whether on the afternoon commute or in the doctor’s office, sometimes it just feels like we haven’t gotten our fair shake.

In such times, we are also prone to doubt the goodness of our God and the sovereignty of his control. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, we grumble and complain against our God (Ex. 16:1-9). We are like a child who struggles to understand the discipline of a parent, whose love is constant but whose values will not waver.

It can be difficult for us to grasp how God can be both powerful and good at the same time. We reason: if God is good and all-powerful then why does he let me (and others) suffer so? In such times too, we tell ourselves that if we held His position then we would do differently. Rarely, however, does our reflection rise beyond the level of superficial self-interest. What must it be like for God? How should he respond to his wayward, self-seeking children? What emotions does our rebelliousness stir within him?

Enter the 8th century B.C. prophet, Hosea. In this book, which is the first in the list of what we call the Minor Prophets, we actually gain a glimpse into this “other side” of the story—God’s side. In the words of Derek Kidner:

Hosea introduces us to a family which is a miniature of our world—or rather, of the most enlightened part of the world of his own day. But it is a problem family, and God compares His situation not to that of an autocrat whose orders nobody dares question, nor of a father who rejoices in an adoring wife and children, but to that of a husband whose wife has left him, and a father whose children are like strangers in his own house and are fast destroying themselves. (Derek Kidner, The Message of Hosea, Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981, 11).

In the book of Hosea, we gain insight into God’s unbending commitment to righteousness and an equally unbending commitment to love his people. God neither looks the other way when it concerns the idolatry and immorality of Israel and nor does he absolutely crush them on account of them. By turns, Hosea explains:

I know Ephraim, and Israel is not hidden from me; for now, O Ephraim, you have played the whore; Israel is defiled.  4 Their deeds do not permit them to return to their God. For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they know not the LORD…For I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear and go away; I will carry off, and no one shall rescue. (5:3-4; 14)

Yet,

How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? …My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. (11:8-9)

In a word, the story of Hosea is messy. This is true not just for the ideas conveyed, but the story itself. In it God instructs Hosea to marry a prostitute and to pursue her even through her unfaithfulness. As Kidner notes, it’s through the parable of their relationship that God reveals his passionate pursuit of Israel. Indeed, Hosea is messy, but it’s a messy grace!

What is more, these questions are not esoteric. Rather, they are deeply relevant to the entire Church of our day. Like Israel of Hosea’s day, we too are acquainted with the things of God, yet due to unprecedented wealth, peace and luxury we are easily drawn away into unfaithfulness. How do we make our way back to God?

Ironically, the answer is not found in considering ourselves more, but in considering God more, specifically, his side of the story. Rather than complaining about how we so often get the short end of the stick, what would it be like to consider how God relates to our petty, wayward self-interest? What is God’s response to us? When we do this, we discover that our God is neither the autocratic and capricious dictator we sometimes accuse him to be. But, neither is God the weak and feeble grandfather who lacks a moral compass. Instead, God is both just and gracious. He is both righteous and merciful. He is the God of Hosea who extends a messy grace to his people, a grace that we desperately need.

It is I who answer and look after you. I am like an evergreen cypress; from me comes your fruit. Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them; for the ways of the LORD are right, and the upright walk in them (14:8-9)


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