I sometimes think that people who talk about a sugar-coated relationship between God and God’s People have not actually read the Bible. Take one of the lectionary readings for this week, Hosea 1:2-10. It’s an episode telling of a frustrated God, directing Hosea to marry a woman, Gomer, who Hosea can expect will be unfaithful to him. Throughout this passage, God seems to be acting with energized spite.
There are, of course, complexities to the text. For instance, Hosea’s wife, Gomer, is identified as a “whore.” For many readers, this identify would signify outcast status on the face of it; for others, including me, the role of sex worker is rife with complexities in a society that limits options for women, and provides opportunities like sex worker that some have claimed, with power and pride. We can wonder, from a feminist perspective, how it is that Hosea is set up as the innocent dupe and Gomer the seeming irredeemable vixen, shouldering the punishment of God’s people alone–and what patriarchal instincts would scapegoat her like that. So, what seems simple yields itself to more reflection. Secondly, we can read this text politically, as more a warning to the Northern Kingdom in the context of the 8th century, BCE.
But let’s engage it, today, as the story of God who’s at the end of God’s rope, exasperated with people, being the people they are. In that sense, from that angle, I sniff a love story at play.
Any cotton-candy version of love–whether in a rom-com movie or the forced joy of a couple seeking to hide the strain in their marriage–is inevitably shown to be a lie. Or, at least, an incomplete rendition of the truth. If this is true of the love between people, it’s true, as well, of the love between people and God. If God is to be more than an abstraction, a Platonic concept meant to illustrate the nature of things–if God is meant to be a living force with whom I have relationship–then this relationship with God is going to have moments of doubt and despair, of outrage and boredom.
Just as in a relationship with a person, when difficulty comes in my relationship with God, I can choose to walk away. Or else double-down with false declarations of certainty. But, if my relationship is mature, I can also simply observe what’s happening, and do some thinking about it, and then decide how I will re-engage. My relationship with God is a symphony of experience and of knowing, textured with colors and notes that enliven my senses. Some of these are unpleasant. Some of these will surprise. It is my openness and honesty about the unpleasantness and the surprise that will open me up to the broader and deeper awareness of God. God need not be cotton-candy–all sunshine and daisies–for my faith to be anchored in something I can trust. Instead, I can come back and come back and come back again to the mystery and invitation of a relationship that will grow, over time. After all, if you read today’s passage from beginning to end, you’ll see that how things end up is different from how they began. Just like anything living.
God, preserve us from easy answers,
And pat explanations.
Help us know You in Your majesty,
And Your complexity,
Even when it confounds us,
Or frustrates us,
Lead us back, again and again,
To seeking a relationship with You,
As honestly as we are able to bear.
2 The first time God spoke to Hosea he said: “Find a whore and marry her. Make this whore the mother of your children. And here’s why: This whole country has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, God.” 3 Hosea did it. He picked Gomer daughter of Diblaim. She got pregnant and gave him a son. 4-5 Then God told him: “Name him Jezreel. It won’t be long now before I’ll make the people of Israel pay for the massacre at Jezreel. I’m calling it quits on the kingdom of Israel. Payday is coming! I’m going to chop Israel’s bows and arrows into kindling in the valley of Jezreel.” 6-7 Gomer got pregnant again. This time she had a daughter. God told Hosea: “Name this one No-Mercy. I’m fed up with Israel. I’ve run out of mercy. There’s no more forgiveness. Judah’s another story. I’ll continue having mercy on them. I’ll save them. It will be their God who saves them. Not their armaments and armies, not their horsepower and manpower.” 8-9 After Gomer had weaned No-Mercy, she got pregnant yet again and had a son. God said: “Name him Nobody. You’ve become nobodies to me, and I, God, am a nobody to you. 10-11 “But down the road the population of Israel is going to explode past counting, like sand on the ocean beaches. In the very place where they were once named Nobody, they will be named God’s Somebody. Everybody in Judah and everybody in Israel will be assembled as one people. They’ll choose a single leader. There’ll be no stopping them—a great day in Jezreel!”
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Rick Davis lives in the Chicago area, USA. He is married to Marianne. Marianne has five children, and twenty-four grand & great-grandchildren. They have a loved cat & dog. Rick graduated from Northeastern Illinois University, and several graduate schools. He’s has worked in market research and other positions. He has worked as a volunteer pastoral counselor at Blind Service Association in Chicago, and at the University of Illinois Hospital at Chicago. He is an ordained minister and interfaith Rabbi.