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Saturday, 30 April 2016

Attraction or Repulsion?

One monthly gem I enjoy on a regular basis is home Bible study. Held at the home of a good friend I knew for around 35 years, it can be packed to the brim at times, as was the case of the last meeting just a couple of days ago. Remarkably enough, although the meeting is open to anyone who wish to partake, in most cases there have always been a high proportion of male attendees. Very unusual in a church environment, where it tend to be dominated by higher female numbers. Then again, the warmth of a private living room with plenty of varied refreshments on offer present a wide contrast from the stone-cold formality of a grey Gothic chapel, where the sound of voices reverberates within the solid walls of the interior.   

Each of these Bible studies normally centre on a Biblical character rather than doctrine or devotional. In the recent past we looked at Abraham and Isaac, along with Joseph (adopted father of Jesus) together with Jezebel and Deborah, two contrasting Old Testament women whose conduct and relationship with God couldn't be any more opposing. But this time round, from a suggestion offered by one of our regular members, we looked at the Prophet Hosea.

Hosea was the Old Testament seer who was ordered by God to marry an adulterous woman, and for a while remained faithful enough to him for her to bear three children. The first was a son who was given the name Jezreel, a location in Samaria where King Ahab reigned, and a principle spawning ground for ancient Baal worship. The second child was a girl, who was given the name Not Loved. The third, another boy, was given the name Not My People. Some time later, Hosea's wife strayed, and while far from home, she was put up for sale as a prostitute, but her husband arrived at the slave market and bought her, and took her back home. The underlying thread of the study was that God called the house of Israel to himself in order to enjoy a relationship. But instead, the Israelites kept on worshipping foreign idols - images made with hands - and this eventually drained the Almighty of his patience, and the result that the northern ten tribes of Israel - to which Hosea ministered - were led into exile by the Assyrians.

I could see such a parallel between the wife's unfaithfulness, her wandering away and eventual enslavement, and the prophet's redemptive purchase - with the sorrowful history of the house of Israel, her exile into the nations, and the purchase the Lord Jesus made on the cross. For there are prophecies in abundance throughout the Bible foretelling the restoration of the whole of Israel to her homeland, and enjoying a healthy relationship with her King who will one day reign over the nation from the throne of David sometime in the future, just as Hosea enjoyed a happier marriage with his wife after buying her back.

During the session, I came up with a reminder that we are no better than they were. I too can be equally hostile to God and want to run away. And I can point to a time and place where I felt exactly like that. It was the love of God gently and without any condemnation who called me, and sensing his love, I responded positively and my faith was restored, albeit slowly. Quite a similarity to the woman caught in adultery as recorded in John 8:1-11.

There are questions surrounding the story. Caught in adultery? It takes two to tango. Why wasn't he arrested with her? Why just her? Perhaps it was her husband who caught them together. Terrified, her lover legged it as fast as possible. And successfully got away as he constantly turned to look back, he kept on running still, into the sunset. A plausible story, especially if the enraged husband called to the Pharisees who were nearby. Under condemnation by all those around her, she presented a golden opportunity for them to test Jesus, who couldn't have been that far away. Instead he showed her love by forgiving her. And that made her want to follow him instead of returning to her judgemental husband, who was most likely filing for divorce, a legitimate action in Jewish custom for such a transgression.

Then how can we forget the story of the woman at the well in Samaria featured in John 4? All he did was ask for some water. The woman was shocked. She knew that she and her people were hated by the Jews and seen as transgressors of the Mosaic Law. Then the Lord began to offer her something positive, including his awareness of her failed relationships with five previous husbands, along with his awareness of her current house-mate. But there was not a hint of condemnation from Jesus, even if she might have been expecting it. Instead, he showered her with love, and she responded by leaving her jug with him to draw from the well if he needs to, and ran off excitedly to inform her countrymen that the Messiah is here. Another devoted follower, the fruit of Christ's love.

Personally, I can't blame the ancient Israelites for their apostasy and blatant idolatry, rather I can identify with them. Hosea and his marriage, her unfaithfulness, and her husband's purchase and restoration are all models of the entire history of the house of Israel and her relationship with God, her heavenly husband. I believe that after the prophet's wayward wife was brought back, their marriage became stable. Despite her sins, which were many, Hosea showed his love for her, proven by going after her while in a helpless and desperate state. Love wins again. 

God has chosen Jacob and his descendants by grace, an act of love. Israel did not deserve God's love, instead his choosing was an act of grace. But God had to show them that they were sinners, falling short of his mark. And the only way sin can be revealed was to give his Law, because through the Law is the knowledge of sin. The whole object of the Law was to bring the sinner to his knees and call for mercy, which was available through the sacrificial ritual God gave them. Looked on in the proper way, the sacrificial system was meant to engender love through recognition of God's mercy, along with an expectation of a more perfect and permanent solution, a once-and-for-all sacrifice. While the intention was to draw them to God, their knowledge of sin compelled them to flee from him in their attempt for an easier route to salvation.

If my own experience has any value, the knowledge of sin in the human heart, stirred by the Law, causes many not wanting to know this God. This sort of reasoning makes it easier for Darwinism to make a home in the human mind, along with, for example, the worship of a certain make of car, or a favourite football team, the adoration of a non-demanding Head of State as depicted in last week's blog, a favourite celebrity, emphasis on nationalism, or anything else which provide an escape from the knowledge of sin in contrast to a holy God. 

Hosea would never had won his wayward wife had he taken the same attitude as the Pharisees, or many in churches up to this day. Look at it this way. If a wife was married to one who was morally perfect, but constantly scrutinising and judging her behaviour, even down to her thoughts and motives, how long would the marriage last? Worse still, if she was unable to leave the house on her own, how much would she love him? History is full of women who had divorced their husbands, there are even cases of murder. The real problem the Samaritan woman at the well was not merely being a difficult person to get on with. Instead, all her husbands most likely kept her under scrutiny and criticised her when she did not measure up to their desires. What she wanted was love.  

The same could be said about the woman caught in adultery. Her husband (if he was there) along with all the religious crowd, wanted to stone her in fulfilment of the Law of Moses, therefore making them look morally pure and feeling righteous. They had no interest in the glory of God. Instead they wanted to prove themselves righteous. But why did the woman commit adultery in the first place? Was she that bad? I don't think so. Instead her husband failed to show her any love throughout her empty marriage. And for that matter, neither her lover really cared for her either. When caught in the act, he legged it instead of standing up to protect and defend her before her accusers. Poor woman! She too wanted the tender love of her husband. Instead her emptiness brought her into the arms of another who, for selfish reasons, temporally showed her some affection and made her feel important. And if it wasn't for Jesus intervening, she would have been stoned to death, her screams echoing across the valley as the fusillade flew towards her from all directions.

Statistics have shown that every week, hundreds of young people abandon the churches their parents attend. Christians come up with such self-righteous, sanctimonious explanations:- "Oh, that proves that they weren't really saved after all." Or, "They were saved once, but having abandoned their faith, they forfeited everything and are lost again!" Maybe a truer explanation is the lack of agape-love in the church itself, not to mention the lack of agape-love between father and mother, as well as towards the teenage son or daughter, no matter how pious they may be in church. In addition, the church or parents could be law-orientated - any love received is conditioned on performance. Therefore they perceive God himself to have a Pharisaic attitude, withholding his love and quick to punish if they don't perform to his standard. Going by my own experience, a religious person who looks to performance in others before bestowing any merit or credibility can be very obnoxious, especially to his victims. Usually he has a very low self-esteem, caused by his own inability to perform to standard, and therefore scrutinising anyone he thinks don't measure up in an effort to lift his own morale.

Then as I would expect, no church is perfect. If such a church exists, I'll be doing everyone there a favour by not turning up - I'll only ruin it! Rather I'm grateful to God that there is a fellowship I can identify with, one I can call my spiritual home. Generally I'm very much liked and respected. Furthermore, Ascot Life Church has provided a good place to talk when doubts and fears overshadow my soul. But as with all other churches, the need to remove religiosity and replace with agape love is essential for vibrant living - especially to teenagers and young people! It needs to be a place where men and women from all walks of life can come in and experience for themselves the truly alternate society where everyone worships from the heart, and not be the ones fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy, like those in the house of Israel - that they worshipped him with their lips, but their hearts were far from him.
Which incidentally, was another comment I made at the home Bible study.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Frank,
    I love the story of Hosea and what it reveals of God's infinite, self-sacrificing, long-suffering love for His adulterous people and for all who stray from Him. Praise God for His patience, forgiveness, mercy and grace! May we learn from this to be more like Him and Hosea and less like the self-righteous Pharisees. Thank you as always for the well-written post and enlightening post.
    God bless,