Deb and I have been blessed with two exceptional children. I hope all of you feel this way about your kids. We should all see our kids as unique and celebrate their accomplishments. At the end of our days, I know Deb and I will look at who Martina and David have become and smile. They have given us such great joy.
That said, raising them was not always a walk in the park. Both David and Martina had their moments. Martina made it a regular practice to inform us we were the worst parents in the world. More than once I received a call from David’s high school principal asking if my son could refrain from what his teachers described as inflammatory political commentary. Our children gave us reasons to cry, moments of insanity, and days that seemed much longer than twenty-four hours. But we never gave up on them. Why? We taught them how to walk.
One of the most compelling love stories in all literature is found in the book of Hosea. No other book in the Old Testament, or perhaps the whole Bible, so perfectly describes the depths of God’s love for humankind. That last sentence might seem a bit over the top. Some folks will incorrectly insist that there is a great disparity between the God of the Old and New Testament. These folks limit the God of the Old Testament to a deity who is fierce, jealous, all powerful, all knowing, all judging, and then miraculously God develops a softer, more loving side. Perhaps such a belief comes from never venturing past the stories of Noah or Joshua. God’s propensity toward grace and mercy was quite evident long before the birth of Jesus.
Hosea loved Gomer. If only the story could have been that simple. From the first day he laid eyes upon her, Hosea was smitten. But the neighbors were stunned. How could such a nice young man be so blind? Everyone knew that Gomer was a prostitute. She would run to whoever laid down the most money. But Hosea was in love. He refused to listen to the whispers. He knew, if given the proper chance, he and Gomer could create the love story of a lifetime. Ignoring his parents, his neighbors and anyone else within ear shout, Hosea proposed, and Gomer accepted. The day of the wedding, half the town covered the odds that the marriage would not last a year. No one believed Hosea could turn a prostitute into Julia Roberts. But then Gomer became pregnant, not just once, but three times. People began to forget who she had been and marveled at whom she had become. Only one person remembered and unfortunately, it was Gomer.
In Gomer’s defense, it is not easy to be the wife of a prophet. Every morning Hosea would get up, go to the center of town and declare the sky was falling. When he got home, Hosea complained no one took him seriously. At some point Gomer grew weary. She needed something different, something exciting. She wanted to live in a world which was more stimulating than changing diapers. She had forgotten how lost she had been before Hosea. She just wanted out and so she left.
The memories of the entire neighborhood were rekindled. They ridiculed Hosea, reminding him what a fool he had been. But Hosea would not hear of it. To anyone who would listen he cried out, “I love her. I refuse to give up on her. I will bring her home.” There is nothing more foolish than a person hopelessly in love.
Gomer returned to her former life. She was no longer young and desirable. The men who bought her were cruel and despicable, often beating her to an inch of her life. It was into this hell that Hosea transported himself. He demanded Gomer be returned but the men who owned her were only interested in making a profit.
“What will you give us for this broken down old hag?”
“I will give you whatever you ask.”
“Is she worth more than everything you own?”
She is worth that and more.”
“Then that shall be the price.”
The money was exchanged without even a promise from Gomer that she would go home. That is how much Hosea loved her. And that is how much God loves us.
The story of Hosea was written more than 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Historically, Israel was a mess. The Northern Kingdom had separated from Jerusalem and the worship of Yahweh as the one true God had been replaced with an allegiance to Baal. In the story, Gomer represents the wayward people of Israel, seeking pleasure for the day rather than considering what seemed to be the impossible demands of a jealous God. Bad treaties and reckless military exploits had left Israel crippled and ripe for invasion. To the north, the Assyrians seemed ready to swoop down and finish off what was left of the broken nation. The theological questions that are raised in this book center on one word, “Why?”
Why should God care? Why should God restore Israel to her former glory? Why should God base God’s concern for Israel on this most fragile emotion? Why should God continue to love Israel? The answer defies logic and does little to sooth the rational mind. “I taught you how to walk.”
These days everyone owns a cell phone. The least important aspect of this piece of modern technology is communication. Cell phones have an app which buys movie tickets. There is an app that can find your car should you forget where you parked. There is an app which turns your phone into a flash light for those who can afford to go to the movies at night. But most amazing of all, phones now have an app which allows you to make your own movies. Thirty seconds after my granddaughter took her first steps my phone rang. After thirty minutes of instructions from my patient son-in-law, my phone allowed me to witness those steps. Is that great or what?
Actually that is not a redundant question. Today, we record everything. Then we store it somewhere in the clouds and believe we will be able to retrieve it on demand. But what happens if it gets lost? What happens if it is a clear day and there are no clouds? What if the Russians hack our phones and the memories are stolen?
Thirty-five years ago, when my daughter took her first step, I didn’t have a fancy phone to record the precious event. But that memory is still burned within my brain. I can shut my eyes and witness it as if I were yesterday. But walking was never enough for that little girl. I taught her how to swim, I taught her how to ride a bike, I taught her how to run. With each new discovery came new freedoms, and choices, and responsibilities. I hoped each road she picked would be the right one. I taught her to stand on her own two feet. I encouraged her to take that initial step. Finally, I released her hand. Why? Because I love her. Such is God’s love for you.
Our initial steps are burned into the brain of God. The love of God is not just occasional. The love of God is not just something that occurs when it best suits God. The love of God is not removed when we venture precariously on our own. The love of God is not lost when we lose our way. God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting. Neither our waywardness nor the consequences that might follow have the last word. God’s intentions have always been redemption and restoration. Listen once more to the words of the prophet Hosea.
How can I give you up? How can I hand you over?
My heart recoils within me;
My compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger,
I am God, not mortal, the Holy One in your midst.
I will not come in wrath.
It was I who took you in my arms.
It was I who bent down and lifted you to my cheek.
It was I who taught you how to walk.
To God be the glory. Amen.