When my friends and I used to sit around and talk about women (and the chasing of them), I used to say that I was looking for somebody with three “G”s. I wanted somebody who was Genuine, Gentle, and Godly. (Kelly and I have often debated whether I have in fact gotten my wish list—I generally think she has a more gentle side than she recognizes herself.) There were two others aspects that, if pressed, I would have admitted pursuing. One is “Gorgeous”, although I might not have confessed that because it doesn’t sound too spiritual.
The final element—and if I’m honest, this was at times the most important element of all—was that I was looking, quite simply, for a woman who would love me. For a while Kelly wasn’t sure about that, and eventually, this was not just a peripheral issue, but THE issue. If she did in fact love me, we’d get married. If not, we were probably done. I knew I loved her, but if it didn’t go both ways, I just wasn’t willing to go any further.
I suppose that isn’t that uncommon. If you peel back the surface of what we all chase in relationships, it comes to this: we want somebody to love us. We just want to love someone and be loved back. All the world’s tragedy and comedy comes down to this.
And so we can only come to Hosea’s story with bewilderment. While Hosea’s marriage to Gomer was introduced in the first chapter, there it is essentially the context for the children and their prophetic names, in an account told by a third person narrator—”this is what happened to Hosea”. In chapter 3, it takes center stage, in a first person account. This is Hosea saying, “This is my story.” The first verse is enough for us to start with: “The Lord said to me again, Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods…”
God invites Hosea to dive into God’s own heart by entering into a relationship which he knows will be unreciprocal. God wants Hosea to love someone—not just marry them, but love them!—in the knowledge that his love will not be returned.
You ever been there? Maybe not on purpose, but have you ever found yourself completely in love with someone that just wasn’t that into you?That is simply one of the most painful things that can happen to humans—and it happens to most of us at some time or another.
What is amazing is that God experiences this in his own heart. This is the most fundamental story we tell about God and his relationship with humans—God loves us, knowing that we often won’t love him back. Indeed, this isn’t accidental, but God created us with this precise possibility. God created us to live in community with him, but also created us with the possibility that we could choose to walk away from him. We often say that God did this so that our love would be of a certain kind—love freely given is the only kind that really matters, after all. I suppose there is a good bit of truth in that, but I think that this Hosea story reveals a deeper truth.
The metaphor here works not because Gomer is going to love Hosea in a particularly powerful way after her faithlessness, although that is a possibility. Gomer’s love simply isn’t the point. It’s all about Hosea’s love—which of course means that it’s all about God’s love. See, God doesn’t just give us freedom only for the sake of making sure that our love is free and thus particularly powerful. Even more, our freedom works to show us the incredible power of God’s own love. God’s love is a powerful “even though” sort of love that loves despite going unreturned. God loves even when repeatedly rejected.
And yet, God’s love always pursues us. God relentlessly chases us, desiring to draw us into relationship with him. God desires for us to respond to him, to freely come and join him. His desire in this text is that Israel would—eventually—come to love him, that eventually Israel would seek God out and join him. He desires the same of us, that as Ephesians says, we may have the power to comprehend the breadth, length, height and depth of God’s love for us, and that perceiving that we may be live in the fullness of God, firmly rooted in his love.
Radically, we might even take this further. Not only does he desire that we realize his love and return it to him, but God’s vision for his people is that we join him in loving the world. Jesus roots his command that we love our enemies in exactly this, that this is how God loves the world. He knows it is different than how the world thinks about love—that’s his point!
“You have heard it said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your father in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Mt 5:43-48)
God loves even when his love is unreturned, and Jesus calls us to learn to love in exactly this way.
Do we have the audacity to mimic God’s love in our own lives—can we learn to love those who simply do not and will not love us back? Can we stop using our love simply as a tool to gain love back for ourselves? Once, God called the prophet Hosea to put his love—God’s love— on display by loving someone who would not love him back—now he calls the church to do the same. We are called to be “Hoseas.” Despite the knowledge that it will often be unreturned, we are called to love all—even our enemies. We do it in the hope that such love might communicate the unbelievable, relentless love of God—in the hope that even our enemies may be redeemed by God. And yet, even as we hope for their redemption, we are called to love regardless whether it ever has that effect or not. We are called to become like God, to break away from the limited nature of our natural way of loving. We are called to become, by the working of God’s own spirit, capable of loving with God’s own love.
Thus the story of Hosea is a story of the gospel, that God loves us furiously. But that gospel is never for us alone. As soon as we grasp its meaning for ourselves, we are drawn into living it out for the world around us. We love with God’s own love, for the sake of God’s own glory. Amen.