Broken Hearted God

There has been a public service announcement playing on TV lately in which a teenager sits in a laundromat and watches as another young man bursts in threatening the people there.  His face is gaunt and scarred from drug use.  He steals their money and then approaches the teenager in the corner.  As the teenager looks up and sees his own face, the thief yells, "This was not supposed to be your life!"  It is meant to be a warning to young people not to try meth, but it pulls at the hearts of parents who fear for the safety of their children in a world filled with dangerous possibilities that promise excitement but hide the cost and toll they will take.

Hosea speaks the words of a broken-hearted God who experiences the feelings of a parent, "When Israel was a child I loved him." I remember reading this passage from Hosea in my younger years and finding it comforting.  But I had no idea at the time what meaning it would hold for me later in life.  This is a passage written by a Parent for parents. 

I suspect it may be even more meaningful for adoptive parents...for this Parenting God continues the lament, "Out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; ...Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them."  This is a parent who saw a child in need and took this child in.  This is a parent who patiently cared for a child through those formative years when children don't know how dangerous the world can be, when children don't know how much they need the security of a caring and attentive parent.  And yet this Parent was there watching the blossoming abilities, healing the early wounds that come from exploration and a child's curiosity.

And then, after all these years of loving care, the child wants to go back, imagining that another world, another family, will be better.  Surely, back there, there will be more excitement and fewer restrictions.  How heart wrenching that must be for the adoptive parents.  It is painful enough to bring a child into the world, to see yourself in them, to dream of the possibilities that lie ahead for them, to try to keep them safe as long as you can, and then to watch as the world draws them away, into places you know will only bring them distress and despair.

These are the words of a Parent looking back at the pictures of that innocent child as the young adult goes off on their own, full of independent ambition and pride and unaware of the pitfalls that lie ahead.  In the words of Hosea, we hear this Parenting God who watches as the people of Israel become more and more distant. "They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their priests, it devours because of their schemes."  These aren't words of punishment; rather, they are the recognition of the consequences that follow the choices of a headstrong and wayward people.

And how many parents have watched as their teen-agers have been swept up into the world of drugs and crime?  As their allegiance to the addiction takes hold and their bodies bear the burden of meth or cocaine, a loving parent can only wait for them to return, hoping that the phone doesn't ring with the voice of a police official on the other end.  This parenting God knows the pain of waiting.

This Parent also knows the anger that mingles with anguish and sorrow.  The sense of betrayal is real and deep.  In a world based on justice, the child deserves the retribution that is meted on others.  In a world based on fairness, there is no obligation to forgiveness or restoration, and when anger flares we know our child deserves what he gets, whatever the law allows.  "Don't come running back to us, we warned you, we gave you all the chances in the world and you threw it back in our faces.  Now you can live with the consequences.  You made your bed.  Now lie in it!"  How many harsh thing have parents thought to say and sometimes said in the heat of the moment in righteous indignation.

But in Hosea, we see the mood change.  The next phrases should be some of the most comforting words in all of scripture, for they speak to us of the meaning of holiness.  They define the character of the Holy One we follow.  Again, Hosea speaks the words of God, the broken-hearted Parent, "My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath."  The Holy God who is just and righteous is above all things compassionate.  As the anger subsides and the love is rekindled, God will find a way for grace to prevail.  God is sovereign in that God is not trapped by a set of laws.  In the wisdom of God, grace and justice are intertwined.  Justice has an openness to the need for mercy and grace has as its goal justice for all. 

This Parent will not leave the children in the hands of the drug dealers.  This Parent is going in to whatever underworld the wayward child is lost within, and they're coming out together.  Hosea continues, "'They shall go after the Lord, who roars like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west. They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes,' says the Lord."  Hosea flips metaphors like playing cards to communicate the emotion God experiences and the lengths God will go to maintain this relationship.

Now God is not just a parent but a roaring lion protecting its cubs.  The children react like trembling doves rushing home to find shelter under the mother's wings.  God is a parent, a lion, a mother hen.  We will see these images again, as Jesus tries to describe the One who sends him to live and die for all the lost sheep and wayward children.  God is longsuffering, ferocious and tender.  Whatever it takes to save us from ourselves and the scams that would trick us into believing that there's an easier way, brighter lights, greener grass, a lottery ticket to fame and fortune.  The gods of our age may take different forms, but like Egypt and Assyria they draw us away from the love that gives us life and nurtures us into our truest selves.

We meet this loving Parent again in the parable of the Prodigal son.  Jesus may have had this passage of Hebrew Scripture in mind when he told the story of a father who watched his son walk away with his inheritance and squander it in a distant land.  This father waits patiently for the headstrong child to experience the consequences of his actions and return.  "While he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion."  The same compassion that melted the anger of the Holy One in Hosea is described by Jesus as the heart of God for each wayward child.  Anger melts in the face of love and the longing of our hearts is fulfilled as we are called home.

That each lost sheep and wayward child breaks the heart of God is a revelation.  God wants us to come home, to be at home with ourselves and with one another.  Wrath and revenge are never God's ultimate goal; and if that is true, they can never be ours.  We may rage in anger at betrayal, but beneath the anger is loss and the deep desire to be made whole and for relationships to be restored. We long to return to a home and community that loves each one into living the life we were meant to live.  And that is also the longing at the heart of God. 

Would you pray with me?

Loving and compassionate God, we are amazed because we need you.  We need love, even when we don't see it, even when we, like wayward children, go our own way into dangerous places.  We fear that all is lost, but we are reminded by Hosea that it is never lost as long as your compassionate love is there drawing us home.  We are grateful, we are overwhelmed, and we are ready to come home.  Thank you most gracious God.  We pray this in Jesus' name.  Amen.