The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son….Gomer conceived again and gave birth to a daughter…. After she had weaned Lo-Ruhamah, Gomer had another son” (Hosea 1:2,3,6a,8a NIV).
“Rebuke your mother, rebuke her, for she is not my wife. Let her remove her adulterous look from her face and the unfaithfulness from between her breasts…I will not show my love to her children, because they are the children of adultery. Their mother has been unfaithful and has conceived them in disgrace” (Hosea 2:1,4,5a NIV).
The LORD said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley. Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you” (Hosea 3:1-3 NIV).
Hosea and Gomer
“God told me to marry you.”
She stood there like a hawk, her whole frame rigid and brittle, ready to fight or run. I wasn’t sure which.
“Aren’t you going to say anything?”
“Yes.” But no other words were spoken.
“I know this might come as a shock to you….”
“….but I assure you that I have the best of intentions.”
Exasperated, I blurted out, “Do you want to marry me or not?”
“Who could resist a marriage proposal like that,” she said, the sarcasm dripping from her words like venom.
“Great. It’s settled then,” I said. “I’ll make all the arrangements.” I was relieved, but little did I realize that my problems were only just beginning.
Who knows how Hosea might have breached the subject of marriage to Gomer. You have to take into account the culture, the fact that he was known as a prophet of God, and the fact that she was a loose woman. Talk about a rebound. Apparently, she was married before and committed adultery and had children by her other lovers. The timeline isn’t all that clear. The storyline is a bit confusing but something strange was going on.
First of all, are you kidding me? God tells his prophet to go marry an adulterous woman who has children out of wedlock. Talk about the lowest of the low. The Pharisees gave Jesus a hard time for letting a prostitute wash his feet with anointing oil just before his death in Jerusalem. He should have known what kind of woman she was. Preposterous. Ridiculous. God told you to do what? God would never do that. I’m certain of it. Yeah, right.
His reputation is kaput. His lovelife…..well, let’s leave that alone for the moment. All we know is that Hosea obeys. He decides that Gomer fits the bill. Some people think that she was a loose woman before they got married, had a husband but was divorced for adultery. Hosea marries her. Has three kids with crazy names (that’s another story) but then something apparently happens. Chapter 2.
In the second chapter, God is speaking to Hosea’s children and telling them to rebuke their mother. She is an adulterer (again) and things get so bad that she ends up in prostitution (meaning that she is owned by her pimp). Somehow she is tangled up in a web of lies and deceit and unpaid bills. Hosea saved her from a nasty divorce in the first place which left her on the street where nobody would touch her. She has three kids and a couple of good years with him. Then she falls back into her old ways and hits absolute rock bottom – broken, destitute and uncaring. Her ability to love Hosea was broken to start with but now she is like the prodigal son, living in the filth of despair and manipulation.
But unlike the prodigal son, there is no repentance here. There is no obvious signs of remorse. She is not begging him to take her back. She is a defeated woman who has hit rock bottom. Her only salvation is her husband, Hosea, who is still her husband and apparently still loves her.
As we enter Chapter 3, we see God taking the initiative and telling Hosea to go and reconcile with his wife again. Apparently he has to buy her back, pay off her debts, and make it right with her pimp. And she is expensive for a prostitute. Fifteen shekles of silver and more than a homer of barley. Wow. And Hosea gives her very simple, straightforward directions. Live with me. Don’t be a prostitute. Don’t be intimate with your other lovers. I will live with you. This sounds a bit like God’s covenant promise to the people of Israel, “You will be my people and I will be your God.”
In our church last year we put up three banners with those famous three lines that are supposed to summarize our walk with God. Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. Pretty good stuff actually. But I have some better ones I would like to put up in our church sanctuary. Don’t be a prostitute. Don’t sleep around. Live with your husband. I don’t think our board of elders will go for it.
What are you saying, that we are all like adulterous women who have prostituted ourselves to run after other lovers? Well, no. I’m not saying that. God is. Yes, about you and me. We don’t love Him. We make it about rules and regulations and obligations and we forget that it is, first and foremost, a relationship.
Pretty harsh stuff don’t you think? But also pretty realistic if we think about it. The whole point of what God was doing was to use Hosea and Gomer as a real live demonstration of the relationship between God and Israel, between God and the church, really, ultimately, between God and you and me. The question is whether or not we will accept such a description.
I have to admit that as I struggle with the Sanctification Gap, I have times I think I’m doing pretty well and times when I truly feel like an adulterous woman who has become a prostitute and is running after other lovers. It is easy to slip out of that sweet spot of love and fall into the trap of “wanting what we want whenever we want” it.
Maybe we still love Hosea. We had a few good years, didn’t we? It was a nice honeymoon. The early years were heady and wonderful, full of signs and wonders and the parting of the Red Sea and conquering the land but, now, its the same old, same old. We’ve lost the old fire in the belly. Like David, we just want to stay home from the wars and indulge the flesh. After all, we deserve a break now and again. The seven year itch. The twelve year crisis. The fifteen year divorce. Oh, yes, we know the drill all too well.
God is pretty well dead-on with his metaphors. He is no fool. He is fighting for the relationship and it starts an honest conversation about the relationship. He is willing to forgive and reconcile but for our sakes, we cannot just ignore the problem. The problem isn’t the sin itself. That is just a symptom. The problem is how we view the relationship. That’s what He wants to talk about first. And the truth is that He is right. We aren’t very good at loving Him. In fact, we are exactly like a prostitute who has destroyed her ability to love her husband by selling herself for money or benefits or the “what’s in it for me?” mentality. We think Hosea married us to give us certain benefits. We think God is here to help us with our lives, to help us build our kingdoms, to give us eternal life after we die. But that isn’t the nature of the relationship. We are here to love Him, to build His Kingdom, to have eternal life right now in a new and wonderful relationship with Him.
Attachment theory tells us that the stronger the attachments a child has when he or she is young, the more they are able to love someone when they are older. Makes sense. The opposite is also true. The more you destroy or manipulate attachments when you are young (or old), the more you are not able to love another. Again. Obvious. But maybe not so obvious to us.
When we do something wrong on purpose and we do it anyway (thinking we will ask for forgiveness later), then (if we are Christians) we feel terrible like we betrayed God. Which is true. That’s hard on the relationship and it often leads to despair and more sinning. But, on the other hand, when we are right with God and things are going good (or at least we think they are), then it is so easy for us to fall into spiritual pride. After all, we have our shit together. What’s wrong with you? But the truth is that whether we wallow in despair or strut in our pride, we are still a bunch of prostitutes whoring after every bauble and trinket that the Devil shows us. Our capacity to love (just like Gomer) was broken from the beginning and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we can get on the right path.
So what is the right path? Really? We’ve been talking about the way of the cross for thirty three days now. Yes, that’s the path. And don’t make the way of the cross into just another obligation with a set of steps and a program of penance and make it all external. That would miss the point altogether. It’s about a relationship. Hosea (God) just wants us to be honest (about ourselves) both in terms of our inability to love Him as well as to acknowledge that we are loved anyway. There is no condemnation. We have been bought with a price. We belong to Hosea (Jesus) now and that’s who we are in our deepest being. We have a life project that we need to fulfill together with our husband. We need to be honest and repent when we do wrong but also continue to learn and grow in our desire for Him and in our ability to walk with Him every day. We have to want the relationship and that means to respect it and work on it. Just like all marriages.
If we truly accept our identity as being one with our husband, then we must also accept our role as a partner, a lover, a friend who will make every effort to live with our husband and share his projects, his business, his interests, his beliefs and values. And he will take care of us and work with us and teach us the ways of love. And we desperately need to learn. It isn’t just about morality, although morality is important. It is what is underneath morality, what causes morality that matters. Morality does not cause relationship but relationship causes morality.
When theologians talk about the law of God and how we should relate to it (in both the Old and New Testament), they like to talk about autonomy, heteronomy and theonomy. When someone simply doesn’t accept the law of God at all, they are autonomous. They are a law unto themselves and go through life doing whatever they want. When someone accepts the law of God as binding on them, they enter into a state of heteronomy. The philosopher, Kant, describes it as an “encounter with a law not willingly accepted from the depths of the heart, but resisted like a straitjacket or outwardly adopted like a mask” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life, p. 112). This can create a kind of “dead goodness” or even open rebellion. It looks like something that might have happened to Gomer. She married Hosea and they had some good years but the brokeness in her heart in terms of her ability to love another (as evidenced by her first marriage breakup) was still there and never dealt with.
That dead heart, which was not able to love, needed to be made alive again in Jesus Christ. When we are justified before God with the righteousness of Christ, our hearts have not yet been changed. We are made righteous in almost a legal way. But that does allow God to give us the Holy Spirit who would normally not be able to live continually in our hearts because of our sin. At that moment of regeneration, our hearts of stone are made into hearts of flesh and we are given the three spiritual virtues of faith, hope and love. But that doesn’t mean that our lives are perfect in love yet. In the process of sanctification, we discover our hearts of flesh and the presence of faith, hope and love and we start to learn to walk in the Spirit. We are broken people, made righteous, regenerated with new hearts of flesh that actually believe (faith), actually expect positive change (hope) and actually wants the relationship (love). Even we are surprised that it is there in our hearts, a gift from God. We are broken people who have been healed but now need to go through a physiotherapy process to make that healing complete.
When that brokeness and inability to love is healed and we are given a heart of flesh and not of stone, then our response to the law of God (to his direction, guidance, correction and rebuke) becomes theonomous. It is understood to be coming from our lover, our husband, the one with whom we are one, the one who bought us, who reconciled with us, gave us a second, and a third, and a fourth chance, the one who loves us enough to die on the cross in order to have a new relationship with us, the one who calls us brother, friend, lover. It is relational. It isn’t about obligations, it’s about learning to love again and letting our lover teach us the way. It is about surrender. Not in an unhealthy way but rather in a healthy way. With humans you have to be careful because we are all sinners but with God, through Christ, we can take the risk of one hundred percent surrender to his will, to his guidance, to his law, to his ways.
If we do not break through to this relational heart of flesh (rather than stone), we will be “trapped in patterns of dead conformity or angry resistance” (p.112). Funny thing. This is just as true in human relationships as it is with God. You don’t even want to see the statistics of people who are trapped in bad marriages because of social pressure or for the sake of the kids. Or, on the other hand, where one or the other partner breaks out with angry resistance to the deadness of the relationship with adultery and affairs or pornography. God knows his metaphors. It really isn’t rocket science.
To change the metaphor from the woman to the man (just so the men don’t feel left out), Professor Lovelace, in his book Dynamics of Spiritual Life, describes it like this. “The typical relationship between believers and the Holy Spirit in today’s church is too often like that between the husband and wife in a bad marriage. They live under the same roof, and the husband makes constant use of his wife’s services, but he fails to communicate with her, recognice her presence and celebrate their relationship with her” (p. 131).
When you reduce the law of God to a bunch of do’s and don’t’s, you miss the point entirely. You are supposed to be like David, a man after God’s own heart, who said, “I love the law of God. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things in your law. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119). That does not mean that David would not sin because he did and grievously, What it means is that God would reconcile with him because he knew David’s heart. They had a relationship.
David truly worked at the relationship. He knew he had a lot to learn about God and His ways. He knew that to love God meant to let God be God. Let Him lead. Let Him direct. We must respond. We must follow. He is holy in righteousness and wonderous in might. We are sinners, prostitutes who have been forgiven, who have been given new identities, new soft hearts of flesh rather than stone, but who still have a lot to learn.
The moment we reduce our obedience to obligation, we have taken away the dynamic of love. That is why we call it “loving obedience.” Jesus was clear. “If you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience is necessary. Because of who He is and who we are. But it is always the obedience of love.
We think of God as holy and perfect and the first thing we think of is that He never makes a mistake, he does all things well, He is high and lifted up. But we don’t think of His holiness as perfect love which is reflected in His law (and the rest of the Word of God). He is perfect in love and all perfection is the perfection of love. The love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is perfect love and is the source of His holiness.
We need to understand the character of God. There is no argument with the fact that God is just. Absolutely just. You can’t turn him from His justice with a bribe or a sentimental argument. You can’t set aside His justice in the name of love. We don’t allow it in earthly judges, so we know that our heavenly judge will be absolutely correct in every way with regards to His justice. Justice is an act of love for the victim. God is the victim of our rebellion but so are lots of other people we interact with everyday. We often think of God’s justice from the point of view of the offender but what about the one who was offended. Should they not claim for perfect love in the form of justice from God. Fairness. No corruption. Love.
The problem is that it makes us tremble to think of it. Not because we don’t expect Him to be true to His unyielding character of love. What else do you expect? But because we know that we could never stand before Him and make any kind of argument in our defence. We are lost and we know it. That is the holiness of God. But it is only one side of His holiness. One side of His love. Because He loves both the offended and the offender. There is more to be said.
The other side, the side that is patient, that is longsuffering, that is able to find a way, to make a way, that side of God is also His holiness. That is also love. God’s justice is rooted in his love but expressed in his might and power. He knows all things. He is everywhere present. He is absolutely good. He knows the truth of every accusation, every rebellion, every intention of the heart. He is the only One who can be the Judge of all mankind. He is the only One who knows what is good or bad (a discernment rooted in love). He is the only one capable of being the Judge and enforcing His law of love on all powers and beings, both human and demonic.
But all of the power and might of the God of Heaven cannot solve the problem of sin. All of the power of God that created the heavens and the earth, the stars and the hosts of heaven, the creative power of God that can explode megatonnes of nuclear fusion in the stars cannot change the heart of man through his power and might. It is impossible. The nature of love is such that it cannot be forced only enticed, only wooed, only seduced and, even then, only after the justice of God has been satisfied. It is only the love of God in self-sacrifice upon the cross of calvary, the Son of the Living God worth more than all humans put together and his three days in hell worth eons of hellish living by all the rest of us, that made it possible for the justice of God to be satisfied with a substitute who was worth more than a million earths full of stubborn prostitutes who have rejected the love of their Creator.
That love that fulfilled the justice of God, calls forth your love. It gives you a new identity, a new heart, a new purpose, and significance. A new meaning in life. And it calls you to live in it. Embrace it. Talk about it. Remind yourself of the fact that holiness is a call to the perfection of love and that every law, every rule, every guidance and training and effort is a step down the path of love, the way of the cross. If you remember anything this Lenten season, remember that you are a prostitute learning to love again. Of course it will be hard, but he loves you and he will help you do it. After all, he bought you with a price. His own life. What woman can say that of her husband? You can.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s pray to God…..
Lord, how easy it is for me to forget the love you have shown me. I love you, help me to love you more. I am a prostitute, bought with a price, and I now belong to you. Teach me the ways of love. For you and for others. That is the holiness you ask of me. Thank you. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
“You see,” Benjamin said, “God created a truce of sorts, putting off his final judgment of death in order to provide a context for the battle with the Evil One for the souls of man.”
“A context?” Gamaliel said.
“Yes. A time and place for God to fight back. Ultimately, every man and woman must make an accounting for their lives but, in the meantime, certain things must be accomplished. The Master Plan must go forward and the Evil One must be defeated. God would not give up his creation or his people to the Evil One without a fight.”
Gamaliel nodded his head in agreement and Benjamin picked up the thread of the story. They were both facing the room and speaking directly to the family and visitors gathered around the table. Gamaliel studied each face carefully. (Read more……)