Back in 2014 (okay fine…and part of 2015), I liked someone I knew had some real character flaws. Haven’t we all? I made excuses for his behavior, wanted to see the good in him despite the warning signs, and basically held out hope that things would work out. Of course, we all know things didn’t change. In fact, if I’m honest, I had some real character flaws too. I wasn’t much better.
There was nothing particularly amazing about this guy other than the fact that I became a better person around him. His actions didn’t make me better a better person. It was just for some strange, unknowable reason, I was kinder, more forgiving, more honest, more giving, and better around him. The world felt good. I felt good.
There were a lot of coincidences surrounding our meeting and time together that had all the makings of a really great romantic comedy, but, in the end, our time together ended in the most humiliating way possible. Just like in the movies, I ran into him with another woman. I was pretty sad about it for a while, but in the end I learned to see it as an object lesson for a better love story.
The Book of Hosea is a story in the Bible that when read without any context sounds really antiquated and yet another reason to hate the Bible and the way women are portrayed in it. So instead of giving you a word for word run down, I’m going to paraphrase it so that the message is conveyed in the way I think it was intended.
The story goes like this.
The setting looked a lot like present day America. The politicians and religious leaders were corrupt. Women were treated like objects of sexual gratification. There was a lot of money, prosperity, and opportunities to be had. People loved selfies and self, and general spiritual apathy pervaded. On the surface, society was still functioning, but things weren’t looking good, and God wanted to warn everyone while they still had a chance to turn things around.
So one day he spoke to the heart of a man named Hosea. Hosea was an honest guy who followed the rules and did what he was supposed to do, the one girls tend to root for in movies but label “too nice” in real life (go figure). Hosea was looking to get married, and God had the perfect spouse in mind for him.
“You see that girl over there, the one surrounded by all of those men. Those guys don’t like her for her anything more than her body, but you will like her for more than that. Her name is Gomer, and I want you to marry her. ” Hosea thought he hit the jackpot. Gomer was really pretty and he liked her personality. He was attracted to her mind and her body. God warned him in advance though. “I just want to tell you before you get involved with her that she’s going to leave you. Marry her anyway.”
Hosea was different from the other guys Gomer had dated in the past, and she fell for his nice guy charm. They got married and eventually had a child together.
Hosea believed God’s prophecy about her might be wrong since they both seemed very happy. God tells Hosea to name their new baby boy, Jezreel, which means “God will sow,” as a prophetic warning that if Israel (God’s chosen people) didn’t shape up, he would allow them to reap the consequences of their actions (sounds a lot like the U.S. and our pride right now). Coincidentally, it was after the birth of Jezreel that Hosea began to notice Gomer’s restlessness.
Hosea was probably the nicest person Gomer had ever dated, but he wasn’t “fun” in the way the noncommittal guys she was used to dating were. He didn’t offer her the exciting lifestyle she was used to, so she started going out more and staying away from home. She missed her old life.
Eventually, Gomer got pregnant again. She apologized for leaving home and for all of her late nights and promised to settle down. Hosea forgave her. He knew she’d experienced things in the past and figured she was just a little uncomfortable. Hosea didn’t want to assume that the baby wasn’t his, but he suspected it, though he let the thought go. This time, God tells him to name the baby Lo-ruhamah which means “no mercy,” as a warning that God would no longer have mercy on Israel, just like Hosea would no longer have mercy on Gomer in time.
It’s after the birth of their second child that Hosea realizes God’s prophetic announcement was true. Gomer was continuing to see other men behind his back. She leaves home and comes back off and on until she gets pregnant for a third time. God tells Hosea to name the third baby Lo-ammi which means “not mine.” Clearly a metaphor for his relationship with Israel and Hosea’s own paternity.
It’s after the third baby that Gomer leaves for good telling Hosea something along the lines of “This isn’t working out. We’re too different. I’ve fallen in love with someone else.” Hosea is understandably upset. All of his friends tell him to forget about her, that he could do better, and that there’s no point in holding out hope for a girl like her to change, but Hosea just can’t let go. Hosea knows this new guy can’t take care of her, so he sends her things in secret, letting her believe they’re from the guy she’s with.
Months pass and God finally tells him to cut her off, effectively saying, “If you don’t let her go, she’ll never learn.” So Hosea listens and when she tries to come back again he refuses to take her back. He loves her, but he’s angry, he’s hurt. When he says goodbye he grieves as though she’s died. He wants to take her back, but he prays and God says no. God wanted Hosea to understand his own grief when Israel turned to things he knew would hurt them in the end and he wanted Hosea to preach about that grief to Israel.
Eventually, Hosea gets word that Gomer’s life is in shambles. His friends say, “Haha, see she got what she deserved. Now you can move on.” But Hosea’s heart won’t let her go. God tells him now is the time to go out and find Gomer. He says, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” God wanted Hosea to prove to Gomer how much he loved her by his actions and as an object lesson of his own love for Israel. So he goes out in search of her.
When he finds her, she’s like Jenny for Forrest Gump. She’s sick, disheveled, and all messed up, selling her body on an auction block for anyone who will pay to have her (think sketchy online dating apps). Anyone else would have given up at that point, but like Forrest Gump, Hosea couldn’t let her go. He goes right up to the auction block and pays for her, spending his last dime on her to buy her out of her slavery.
“We don’t have to get back together, but I want you to stay at my house and get better,” he says. “I want you to respect yourself and love yourself and I can tell you don’t right now. I’m not going to sleep with you or take advantage of you. I’m not going to leave you for anyone else either. I want you to know you are loved.”
It’s at this point that Gomer had to make a choice. Does she change her life for the better or does she just use Hosea’s kind gesture as the confidence boost she needed to go back to her old life?
The Bible doesn’t say. It leaves it open to interpretation.
I’d like to think that this act had some impact on her even if she didn’t change immediately. If you read the Bible, you know the nation of Israel ultimately falls to foreign invaders, BUT I don’t think that that was the end of the story.
If Hosea is a prophetic prequel to the love story of Jesus, then we all know the story has a happy ending. Jesus ultimately endures the cross of humiliation for people who don’t care much about him or his message because he loves humanity anyway. It’s fitting in a way. We all turn our attention away from a committed relationship God, mixing it with other philosophies and material things (ex: careers, relationships, money, power, pride, politics, etc.) because they all sound more “enlightened” than a boring, antiquated relationship with something that we’re not even sure exists. We think of God as this angry, vindictive dictator, hell bent on making our lives miserable with rules and burdens, until we’re desperate and really want something.
Parents have this unique ability to love their kids unconditionally, and I think that’s how God works too. Yes there are rules. Yes there is discipline. But it’s all based in love.
My redemption story ended like this: I realized I wasn’t Hosea and that guy I liked wasn’t Gomer. Nope, I was Gomer all the way. God was the guy providing all of the emotional things I needed until he realized he was hurting me more by doing so. That guy was just another object of misplaced affection.
It took me a long time to realize how much I longed for God, but when I finally started studying the Bible and going to church, I realized how much I needed a healthy, committed relationship with God in order to have a healthy, committed relationship with anyone else.
Do I believe people can change? Yes. Do I think that change is easy? No. Change requires discipline, rules, and commitment, all things that aren’t easy in this day and age. Luckily, we don’t have to do it alone. I often think of church as spiritual therapy. You don’t go because you have to go, you go because you realize you need help. You go to grow.
These days the world is crazy, and it’s easy to give up hope. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in going back to church it’s this: God lives for happy endings. He died for one too. Love.