<taking a deep breath in the Spirit>
Guys and gals, do you understand that the God I worship is not the same God of my understanding? The more His Word penetrates my hardened, fleshy heart, the more I see His glory blowing up, and more exponentially than I'd ever imagined.
Despite my wickedness, He is infinitely gracious; despite His judgment against my lackluster faith in Him, He is ever-present; and despite my regular (or sometimes irregular) time with Him in worship and study, He is infinitely greater than what I first imagined.
I have been in the book of Hosea for the past week and a half or so. Hosea. What do you think of when you hear that name? Dude forced by God to marry a prostitute and put up with her runnin' around on him? Yup, that's part of it. But it should be clear that this is a small part of the book. Yes, this guy's life is used of God to show Israel - in a real-life parable that brings real-life suffering into Hosea's real life - what their rejection of God is like in the eyes of God. The imagery is potent even without the explanation, but I'm going to go there.
Hosea and Gomer have (at least) three kids: a son, a daughter, and another son. Jezreel (as a memorial to Jehu's obedience-to-God-turned-to-murder-massacre [2 Kings 10:30-31, 2 Chronicles 22:8-9]), Lo-Ruhamah (to remind Israel they are not loved in their disobedience to God, but will be loved in their returning to God), and Lo-Ammi (to remind them they are not God's people... but they will be again). Basically, their whole lives are to be reminders of God's hurt because of His people's faithlessness. And THEN Gomer runs off on him. After Hosea and Gomer have been intimately connected, joined as husband and wife, she takes off and does the same things that were expressions of Hosea's love for her with other men. And not for free. She's not just an adulterer. She's a prostitute. She sells her body, she gives away the fruit of her nakedness to anyone with the change to pay the tab. Her body is not sacred, and neither is her relationship to Hosea. For no less than two years (at least), Hosea and Gomer engaged in the physical and relational intimacy of a marriage relationship, as God intended. But then it all fell apart, and the union was broken. In Chapter 3 Hosea has to buy her back, and puts an end to her prostitution - she is bought back for faithfulness.
You think your life is rough? Quit your griping!
But there are 11 more chapters in this book, people, and it's all about the faithlessness of Israel toward God, the pain and destruction it brings, and how God's enduring love toward Israel does not end with His fierce judgment against her but with her reconciliation! God redeems His people Israel, not because of their goodness but, because of His grace and character. She is His! She's a dirty, filthy hooker-at-heart, but He is a forgiver of sin and a gracious receiver of those who return to Him.
... People - do you get the greatness of the God you serve? If you do in fact serve the one true God of heaven and earth. Do you get it (Hosea 14:1-2, 9)?
Working On Better
But my resolve to be faithful to her trumps all other things, or people, God help me! She is my Bride, my pure and spotless one, perfected in Christ for me and me alone to enjoy. I delight in her, even when we're both crabby or cantankerous! Thank God, in those moments, that we are even yet being shaped in Christ!
Earlier on in our courtship, even marriage, we talked about cheating on each other: not in a "making plans" fashion, but in a "what would you do if..." kind of way. It's tough to do things like that because we tend to paint rosier pictures of ourselves than exist in reality. I like to think that if Rebeca cheated on me, I'd be willing to do the hard, hurtful work of reestablishing trust and friendship and love again... but I don't know. Rebeca said she didn't know if she'd be able to get past that betrayal if I cheated on her... but she didn't know. By God's grace, we'll never have to enact our musings, and we've taken personal steps unique to us to barricade ourselves against the possibility.
Both of us know what we should do, biblically, because we know God hates the divorce "alternative" (Malachi 2:16), but the flesh often wins out when we have to choose between our feelings and the authority of God's Word. It's difficult to say in both cases, to talk about what's unknown. That's why I appreciate Wendy Plump's article, A Roomful of Yearning and Regret, in the New York Times, because she writes from the POV of one who's been on both sides of that razor's edge. She can confirm that no one gets away unharmed, and it's worth using in any premarital counseling to help others avoid the same pitfall.
When Better Is Scandalous
It's amazing the animosity one can have toward a supposed-figment of their imagination. We get what we desire (10:12-13a, 11:7), but we so rarely desire God, so rarely turn to Him (12:6). Because God isn't like us (11:9), and His grace is so often seen in His severity against the sin that destroys us, but more importantly separates us from Him!
When I run from God, it's because I know He will show me myself clearly, without the "hedge of protection" I build around myself. We pray for these hedges of protection because we value comfort more readily than truth. We deceive ourselves and do not turn to the God who heals and frees and restores because we are likely to associate our sinful selves with our very identity. But our identity is not in our actions, occupations, words, or relationships. Our identity is primarily in our Creator, who has made us in His image, for His glory, and for our good.
That's why the love and mercy of God is so scandalous, precisely because we are so dirty and quick to reject the very source of our life. Despite our faithlessness, God is faithful (2 Timothy 2:13). Despite our hatred of His discipline, He disciplines us because of His love (Proverbs 3:12, Hebrews 12:6). Even when we weren't looking for God, God died for us (Romans 5:8). The scandal of doing/being/acting better is it's a merry-go-round of delusion and disappointment we nevertheless trust in; the scandal of God's deliverance is that it actually has very little to do with us at all, and so we are ultimately helpless to improve our situations alone. We only find improvement through surrender of our lives to the Creator of life.
I am a whore, a hooker, a self-serving seller of myself. But God loves me anyway. Whoa.
I will close with the Word of God, which is so much more valuable than my words:
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips...
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 righteous will walk in them,
But transgressors will stumble in them.
-- Hosea 14:1-2, 9