A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
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I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Obsessive Love: A Lectionary Reflection on Hosea 11:1-11

Hosea 11:1-11

In the opening verses of Hosea 11, God plays the role of a unrelenting and loving parent and a deeply hurt lover that refuses to give up on his beloved. There are no deeper hurts in life than love given, but not returned. A mother raises a child, sacrifices in many different ways, puts her own needs on hold, and orients her entire life around her offspring, but in adulthood, the child rejects her love and refuses to love in return. There is intentional alienation. What mother would not be crushed by a child "bent on turning away from" her (11:17).


Unrequited or one-sided love is difficult to endure for the one who loves the other who does not love in return. It is no wonder that it is the subject of so much literature and song through the centuries. In the short story, "The Adventure of Abbey Grange," Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes, "It was all love on my side, and all good comradeship and friendship on hers. When we parted she was a free woman, but I could never again be a free man."

God, the loving and unrelenting parent and the deeply hurt lover vents out loud his pain, frustration, anger, and yes, his love in Hosea 11. The God of Israel is not some some stoic, disinterested deity who feels no emotions, who stands aloof in heaven with no concern for what happens. On the contrary the God of the Bible is so obsessed with love for his people that such love cannot be described only as a parent or as a spurned lover-- both images are needed and even then they do not adequately capture the preoccupation God has with his child and lover, Israel.

God's anger toward his people is a large theme in the Old Testament and is also present in the New Testament in the teaching of Jesus and Paul. We modern folks so caught up in moralistic therapeutic deism struggle to imagine a God that gets angry and judges. We somehow have been caught up in the false idea that a God who loves unconditionally really doesn't care how we live our lives, other than to be nice, nor does he care if we go following after the worship of other gods that come in many and various forms. But we human beings who love so imperfectly know that a parent who truly loves a child and a lover who truly loves the beloved cares how the subject of that love lives. It is truly impossible to love from a distance, and it is also impossible to love in a disinterested way. God's love for us is obsessive and we see such love in Hosea.

One more thing needs to be said. The images of God as parent and lover are needed together to begin to capture what it means for God to love his people, but those images are also inadequate. God's perfection, holiness, and judgement are also wrapped up in this package of divine attributes. We should not pit them against each other, but understand that they are intertwined together into a coherence that we human beings can scarcely understand.

A perfect God is ultimately beyond the comprehension of imperfect human beings; but one thing we can know for certain-- God's love for us is so deep that God hurts when we reject that love, and it is so obsessive that God will stop at nothing to love his people including becoming the very thing he loves in Jesus Christ.

"For God so loved the world...

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