Thursday, March 31, 2016

Mercy for No Mercy

I stumbled across the book of Hosea recently, as I looked for something to read in my Bible. I've been meaning to devote time to parts of the Bible other than the New Testament, the Psalms and a few other favorites. Part of my interest in the Old Testament was damaged when I took a class at my university, where every lecture without fail repeated itself, reducing each book of the Old Testament to a summary of retribution theology. The OT lost some of its value in my eyes when it was drilled into me that all that mattered was the cycle of sin God's people were caught in. It didn't help that this was my first semester in college, the one during which I became clinically depressed, borderline suicidal. Everything, even the Bible, seemed bleak.

Flash forward to me reading the book of Hosea this week. Holy cow, talk about an illustration of redemption. If you're at all familiar with the book, God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute, as a way of demonstrating through a tangible marriage the way that God loves his people. I always hear about how Francine Rivers wrote a book inspired by this scenario...apparently it's called Redeeming Love. Maybe someday I'll read it. But this week I was really blown away by the actual text, specifically Hosea 2.

Now, Hosea 2 starts out with a declaration of punishment. God describes how his beloved has been unfaithful, and naturally this warrants his wrath. But it never gets to that point. Verse 14-15: "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..."

For many people, it is difficult to understand God's love. The Bible gives us examples and analogies of it to help us comprehend what his love is like. Some people find it odd that God's love is likened to the romantic love between a husband and wife. But in this portion of Scripture, the language helps me, personally at least, understand the depth of God's love for me. He loves me more than I love him, and I worship him. How unfathomable can that love be, a love that is greater than worship? No, I am not saying God reveres us the way he reveres himself. Only God is worthy of being bowed down to.  But let yourself ponder this a bit. We have a God who is excited to love us, who wants to attract us closer and speak tenderly to us. He wants to give so much to us and fill us with hope. He really loves us.

"And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me 'My Husband,' and no longer will you call me 'My Baal.'" (Hosea 2:16). God wanted to change the way his beloved referred him. There was something about God's relationship with his people that was not right. It was not as it should be. One day our relationship with God will be as it should. It may be pretty good right now. But I think there is something in all of our lives that makes us see God more as "My Baal" and not "My Husband."

"And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord." (Hosea 2:19-20). God's people here are getting both/and rather than either/or. We have a God who is ours 1) forever 2) in righteousness 3) in justice 4) in steadfast love 5) in mercy 6) in faithfulness and 7) in knowledge. Sometimes I struggle with the whole justice vs. mercy dichotomy, until I realize that it is not a dichotomy. With God, the expression of mercy and justice go together flawlessly. He does not separate the two. In that way, we cannot just do whatever we want because we are betting on God to be merciful but we also do not need to fear his justice, if we have placed our trust in him. 1 through 7 are all aspects of God's relationship with us that form the foundation. If only we were cognizant of them more often. How much does our Lord want to bring us to himself, and in so many ways!

The last verse of this chapter is my favorite, in a way because it goes against common thought. "And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, 'You are my people': and he shall say, 'You are my God.'" God's whole story for humans is a story about unworthy people. The only thing is, God does not in fact see us the way we think he sees us. Yes, he sees that we are broken. But he gives us the opposite of what we think our actions merit. God does not work like a human. He gives us things others might look at and say, "You don't deserve that," or "I don't think God works that way. God does a,b, and c, not x,y, and z. That's not possible."

If we stop expecting God to follow human logic and human rules, we might find him in unexpected places. We might be more open to people who don't have the gospel but have other things. When we can do that, offering the gospel then becomes the next step to telling them the truth. It becomes a matter of being honest. And it is a natural give and take, of giving the New Agey dude a new perspective on Jesus when he encourages you or telling the disillusioned former Christian that you also have a struggle, but there is one thing you have been learning, and that is that God is more than you ever dreamed.

I hope you have enjoyed Hosea 2 as much as I have, and have discovered that there is more to God as a result.

To contribute to my time ministering in Romania, you can just click here. Thanks!