A Love Letter…in the Midst of Chaos

November 15, 2015

Hosea 11:1-9

The band is called the Civil Wars and the song is called Poison and Wine and, as you just heard, ends with the gutting refrain of, “I don’t love you but I always will.”Which is essentially the promise we hear in today’s reading. A promise made from God to the people of Israel. A promise made from God to us. A love letter to us.

Just for a moment, I want you to consider a deep regret or unresolved sadness in your own life. When have you really screwed up? When have you really hurt someone? When have you done damage to more than you ever thought possible. When has it all gone off the rails for you? When have you had a dark night of the soul, contemplating just who you are. Wondering just how it all got to this place.

Now, sit with this for a moment. Sit with this uncomfortable memory or state of your life. [count to 10]

Now, hear this poetry of Hosea again. And I want you to imagine this heart broken and merciful God speaking these words directly to you as your ears ring, as you’re sure it certainly can’t be true.

When you were a child, I loved you and out of Egypt I called you, my daughter, my son.

2The more I called you, the more you went from me; you kept sacrificing your life to the false gods who always let you down.3Yet it was I who taught you to walk, I took you up in my arms; but you did not know that I healed you. 4I led you with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to you like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to you and fed you. 5 Yet, you shall return to a far off place, and you will put your trust in another, because you have refused to return to me. 6Violence rages in those places you choose, it consumes your false priests, and devours because of their schemes. You are bent on turning away from me. 8How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I make you like cities that have been destroyed? How can I treat you like you deserve? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy you; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

It’s a love poem from God to us, and like any good love poem, there is sorrow mingled with love. God remembers the love and tenderness showed to us, only to be predictably rejected by us. The more God seeks after us, calls to us and reaches for us, the more we turn away from God, bat God’s love and attention away from us, seeking the things we think will fulfill us. We’re so bent on choosing our own way that we cannot even recognize that it is God who heals us. We forget about God. We turn away.

It’s at this point that God is frustrated and seems to reach a dangerous boiling point. A relationship-ending point. There is threat of war and violence, since we seem to be so bent on being ruled by anything other than God, God contemplates sending a dominating empire, as if God were planning to send ISIS or ISIL to rule us with chaos and violence and fear and God won’t listen to our prayers. It’s in these verses (5-7) that God hides from us and all hell breaks loose.

But it doesn’t end here. God simply cannot turn God’s back on us. It’s just not the character of God. Now, some of you might think, “well, it certainly is the Old Testament God, isn’t it?” And certainly, God shows anger throughout scripture. Jesus was not always meek and mild but angry and distraught as well.

And isn’t that part of love? God loves us and sometimes we forget that God is paying attention and knows all the things about us that we think we only know. And so of course God gets angry and is grieved by our actions. We have the capacity to break God’s heart, so in love with us is God. Isn’t that just staggering? Just as you grieve your own actions or the actions of your daughter or son, your sister or brother, your spouse, your neighbor.

But God’s anger moves and changes not by our actions to make God love us and forgive us. We don’t have this power to make God love us more or less or to make God forgive us. Just in case you think the Old Testament God would not forgive us, let me remind you that there is one God in all of scripture and this chapter in Hosea shows God moving out of anger toward compassion and mercy. Verse 8 begins that beautiful turn: 8How can I give you up? How can I hand you over? How can I make you like cities that have been destroyed? How can I treat you like you deserve? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy you; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.

 We deserve God’s judgment and wrath because we will always choose the things that aren’t God. We always will. It’s like our reset button.

So let this be the defining character of God not only in the OT but throughout scripture and throughout your life. God absorbs the judgment in Gods own self instead of letting it play out on our heads. God takes it on and God’s compassion grows warm and tender toward us.

Whatever it is you’ve done, whoever it is you think you are, God takes it on and bears it and then, unthinkably, wraps you in warm and tender compassion. God suffers to love you. God suffers in love for you. The suffering of God is not a new idea. The cross of Jesus Christ is not a new idea. It is the long-suffering, everlasting love of God that has no beginning and no end.

This is good news for you today and for all time.

 

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