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More God Than We Want?

San Williams

July 25, 2010
Hosea 1:2-10

Who is God?  Doesn’t that sound like a manageable question for a mid-summer sermon?  Something about summertime tempts us to lighten up and deliver sermons that go down as easy as a cool glass of iced tea. But if we had wanted to keep our sermons airy and easy this summer, we made a big mistake by focusing on the Hebrew prophets.  The prophets in general and Hosea in particular, interrupt all attempts to keep our conversations with God cool, calm and polite.  But before we let Hosea i4turn up the heat on our conversation, let’s hear how we Christians have typically answered the question:  Who is this God we purport to worship and serve?

Our early Presbyterian formulations of God from the 17th-century tended to describe God in rather speculative and sterilized terms reminiscent of the Greek philosophers.  The Westminster Confession of Faith, for example, describes the living and true God as “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute…”  The authors of the Westminster Confession were good at upholding the transcendent otherness of God, but in their terminology God is so transcendent as to lose contact with us human beings.

Moving forward in history, we see how God was conceived by our nation’s Founding Fathers.  These 18th-century figures tended to imagine God is terms of an impersonal Sovereign, devoid of emotion and passion.  Deism is the term given to this view of God as an emotionally detached Supreme Being, not unlike Aristotle’s depiction of God as “the Unmoved Mover.” David L. Holmes’s book The Faith of the Founding Fathers notes, for example, that George Washington consistently referred to God using such terms as “Providence,” “the Deity,” “the Supreme Being,” “the Grand Architect,” “the author of all Good,” and so on.  These are majestic terms, to be sure, but they suggest a God who exists at a great remove. We don’t connect to these terms emotionally.

And what about the way God is conceived of today?   Today one hears people say, “Even though I am not really a religious person, I do consider myself very spiritual.”  So-called spiritual folks tend to vaporize God into something amorphous, something like Good Energy or Cosmic Vibrations.  “This,” writes Methodist Bishop Will Willimon, “is the great faith of our time—faith as a vague feeling of something or other, out there or within, something that gives us a sort of warm feeling about some indescribable, indefinable, something.  Call it spirituality lite.”

Well, maybe we all have our ways of keeping God at arm’s length. From the Greek philosophers to the present day, it’s been a temptation to conceive of God in a way that doesn’t interfere with our comfort, challenge our lifestyle or confront our behavior.

But, friends, the prophet Hosea presents us with a very different sort of God. Hosea intrudes with a challenging, perhaps even offensive, metaphor for our relationship to God.  We read how in obedience to God’s word, Hosea married a prostitute.  In this way, the prophet’s marriage to a promiscuous spouse becomes a parable for God’s relationship to Israel.  That is, we stand before God as an adulterous spouse stands before a long-suffering, loving, faithful husband or wife. Hosea’s God is hardly some distant, unruffled deity. No, Hosea represents a God who is passionately committed to Israel—a God who takes his people’s infidelity personally. Other places in the Bible declare that God is a jealous God. Thus, in the prophets the conversation between God and Israel quickly becomes heated, acrimonious and fierce.  Why?  Because, the prophets answer, God is so completely committed to Israel.  The choir’s anthem this morning echoed this notion that God’s attachment to us is like that of a Bridegoom to his Chosen, as a Mother to her child, as a shepherd to his lambs.

We even heard God’s anguish over his chosen erupt into name-calling.  The children of Hosea and Gomer are given names that mean “not pitied” and “not my people.”  These are stinging accusations, to be sure. But in extreme situations of anger and disappointment, a wounded human parent might shout something similar:  “Son, you’ve gone too far.  I can no longer be your parent.”   Or, “No daughter of mine would act as you are acting.”  Can we accept that God is as passionately connected to us as spouses are to each other or as parents are to their children?  If so, it follows that God reels with anguish over our infidelity.

But what exactly was the nature of Israel’s infidelity?  According to Hosea, not only was God distraught over Israel’s flirtation with other gods, but even more seriously Israel had played fast and loose with the covenant that God had made—a covenant to live in God’s creation as care-takers, justice-seekers and peace-makers.   For Hosea, aberrant human behavior has disrupted the harmony of all creation. Thus in chapter 4 he cries out:  “Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.”  (4:2-3).  Hosea shows us a God who is personally embroiled in the way his people dwell together in God’s creation.  When one human takes the life of another, God’s heart is the first to break. When the powerful oppress the powerless, God aches in sorrow.  When the air is fouled, the seas polluted, the land depleted because of human carelessness and greed, God cries out in duress.

And isn’t this passionate, fiercely loving God the very God Jesus reveals?  When asked what God is like, Jesus responds with stories about a shepherd who relentlessly searches until the one lost sheep is found, the woman who turns her house upside down until she finds her one lost coin, the father who waits with eager longing until the lost son comes home.  So who is God?  Both Hosea and Jesus point us to a God who can be wounded and betrayed but who, nevertheless, is relentless in pursing those whom God has chosen and loved.

So friends, when we walk out of the sanctuary this morning, we go forth as people who are intimately related to a passionately loving God.  Our faithfulness to God is tested every day by the way we treat our neighbors, the manner in which we live, the way we spend our money, the care we give to nature, the welcome we extend to the stranger, the food we give to the hungry.  Like a Bridegroom to his Chosen, we are wedded to all creation in a bond of mutuality and grace.  Sure, we can ignore God, worship other gods, doubt God, or simply turn God into a distant abstraction.  But in the end, we are still the people we will forever be:  “children of the living God.”