Hosea is one of my favorite hymns… and one of my least favorite books of the Bible.
The hymn, by Gregory Norbet, is a short and sweet folk song with the beautiful refrain: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life. When I sing those words, I imagine the Lord inviting, imploring me to return to His open arms.
The biblical book, however, is much more complicated. The promise of reconciliation, which the hymn highlights, is buried under a litany of psychologically and physically violent threats. Certain passages are difficult and painful to read and process.
This jarring juxtaposition, however, reminds us that the love of God, while unconditional, is not for the lighthearted. He calls us not to a superficial but a serious relationship.
The Book of Hosea centers around a rough analogy. Hosea represents God and Hosea’s wife, Gomer, represents the people of God. Just as Hosea and Gomer are bound by their marital vows, God and His people are bound by their vows at Sinai. Gomer, like the people of God, commits one infidelity after another. Gomer’s infidelities include sleeping with other men. Our infidelities include worshiping false idols. Hosea and God, having been betrayed, threaten various, violent punishments.
These punishments, for all of their ugliness, stress just how deeply God desires a faithful relationship with us. God is not the kinda-sorta boyfriend who forgets to text you, who delays meeting your parents, who dates other people. God is the serious boyfriend who throws rocks at your window, who sends flowers to your office, who picks you up from the airport because he hates when you go away. This is not a casual relationship. This is a head-over-heels, Facebook-official, put-a-ring-on-it relationship.
Even in our most serious relationships, however, we have moments when we distance ourselves. We doubt, we pull back, we question, we hesitate. The responsibility of a serious relationship seems too demanding. The vulnerability seems too dangerous.
The Book of Hosea understands this. It knows that human relationships are marked by periods of intensity and intimacy; of disinterest and distance. Accordingly, the book does not follow a nice and neat linear structure. It does not simply show Hosea and Gomer falling in love, falling apart, and then reconciling and recommitting. Instead, it is a roller-coaster of highs and lows, sins and sorry’s, betrayal and reconciliation. It’s not a straightforward story line, but it is a realistic relationship.
My own relationship with God has been similarly tumultuous. Sometimes, I wander away and then make a beeline back. Other times, I storm off in anger and then return not so much out of desire but out of duty. Each time, God welcomes me back. Yes, with open arms. Yes, with forgiveness. But, not without acknowledging His disappointment in my distance, not without challenging me to come closer.
My favorite hymn is not wrong in singing: Long have I waited for your coming home to me and living deeply our new life.
God is, indeed, waiting for our return. The biblical book reminds us, however, that His wait is marked by passion, not patience.
And, God, indeed, does offers us a new life in relationship with Him. The book reminds us, however, that relationship with God demands responsibility, vulnerability, and fidelity.
I still cringe when I read certain parts of the Book of Hosea. Not only because some of the language is disturbing and shocking. But, also because I am keenly aware that I have so frequently distanced myself from a God who loves me, who desires me, who cares for me.
So, in the words of Hosea, “Come, let us return to the Lord” (6:1).