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God’s Search for Gomer PDF Print E-mail

HOW GOD’S EXPRESSION OF STEADFAST LOVE SERVES AS AN EXAMPLE FOR US

The bible is not the story of man’s search for God; it is the story of God’s search for man.  When Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden their reaction was to flee and hide from the presence of the Lord. In fact the very first words God speaks to Adam and Eve after their sin are “Where are you?”

When God is with Adam and Eve after their fall from grace two interesting things transpire.  First, he tells them the consequences of their actions including that they are to be cast out of Eden. Yet once they are no longer in paradise, it is interesting that God does not leave them. In fact, the second thing that happens between God and Adam and Eve is that the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them. (Gen 3:21 ).  God continued to care for his creatures despite the fact that they turned from him.

God’s decision to continue to care for his creatures is fantastic.  For God is righteous, just and all powerful.  He could have chosen to condemn Adam and Eve.  He could have killed them, and created two more human beings.  In fact, a righteous God could be justified in destroying any sin or sinner in his creation.  Yet God compassionately chooses not to destroy sinners, but rather seeks to reconcile them unto Himself.   Indeed, the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  ... He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. (Psa 103:8,10 )

The greatest record of God’s attempts to reconcile a people unto himself are found in the Bible.  God’s attempts to reconcile Israel unto Himself  form the corpus of the Old Testament.  The Old Testament is, simply stated, Israel’s’ record of how God tried to lead them back to him.  Anyone who takes the time to become acquainted with the history of the Jews as recorded in the Old Testament will notice that despite God’s steadfast and ongoing efforts, the Jews commitment to God was continually fickle.  At one moment they were faithful and obedient ,and the next moment they were being blatantly unfaithful to God.

One of the most graphic illustrations of the relationship between God and Israel as recorded in the Old Testament is the story of Hosea and Gomer.   The story is found in the book of Hosea the Prophet and is not only a story of Hosea and Gomer, but is at the same time an intentional illustration given to us by God of the relationship between God and Israel.

In the beginning of the story of Hosea the prophet we read, “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the LORD." (Hosea 1:2 )  Hosea marries the harlot Gomer and Gomer becomes pregnant through adulterous means, and subsequently has children born of her harlotry.  Hosea’s reaction to Gomer is not unlike God’s reaction to Adam and Eve.  First, he pronounces judgment upon Gomer for her wickedness and tells her the consequences of her actions. In pronouncing one part of Gomer’s punishment God says through the Prophet Hosea, “I will hedge up her way with thorns; and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths... And I will put an end to all her mirth... (Hosea 2:6,11 )”

The pronouncement of punishment against Gomer does not end Hosea’s words to Gomer.  Very soon after pronouncing Gomer’s punishment, Hosea announces his intent to try to woo Gomer back to him.  In Hosea 2:14 we read, " ...behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards, ...and there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,...and I will make you lie down in safety.  And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness... (Hosea 2:14-23 )

In Hosea’s words to Gomer we hear God’s words to Israel. For just as Hosea intended to woo back Israel, God’s actions in the bible represent an ongoing attempt to woo Israel back to himself.  God was faithful to Israel despite the fact that Israel was ignorant, disrespectful, and unfaithful to the Lord.

God’s attempts to woo back his people do not end with the stories in the Old Testament, but continue throughout the New Testament, and even continue till today.  Even though God had the ongoing right to utterly destroy Israel, he chooses rather to use his strength for discipline and continues to reach out to his lost children in love.

For most of biblical history, the children of Israel held a special place in the Bible.  For whatever providential reasons He has, God chose to reveal himself to the world through his ongoing interaction with the Jews and the nation of Israel. But then something changed. Israel’s status as God’s chosen people lost its exclusive status in the New Testament. For in the New Testament salvation is opened up to all people; Jew and non-Jew alike.

The culmination of God’s ongoing efforts to reach out to not only Israel, but to all his children occurred in God’s sending his beloved son into the world to save humanity from destruction, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17 ) For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Th 5:9)

God’s love for us is immeasurable.  In his concern for our salvation he held nothing back, but gave all he could.  His steadfast love was evident in the Garden of Eden, in the example he gave us through Hosea and Gomer, throughout the Old Testament, and in the sending of His son to us for our salvation.

In God’s steadfast love we have an example of how we are to be with one another.  When a person or nation mistreated God he was angered and told them the sin they committed, but God did not stop there.  Rather he continued to try to reach out to His people and woo them back into a good relationship with him.  At so many times God could have thrown his hands up in the air and said. ‘Look, I’ve had it with you unfaithful and ignorant people.  You can all burn in hell’.  BUT HE DID NOT DO THIS!  What a great example for us.  In God’s exemplary love for humanity he shows us the kind of patience and tolerance we should have for one another.

God not only shows us by example, but also teaches us by word to speak to each other when we believe we have been wronged. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church... (Mat 18:15-17).

Too often people are quick to condemn another, saying to themselves,  “I won’t speak with them any more,” or  “After what they did, I won’t have anything more to do with them”.  Certainly the person who has been most wronged in the history of the world is Jesus Christ.  Yet  He primarily maintains an attitude of forgiveness and encourages us to do the same.  God’s message to us is not to have a condemnational attitude, but rather to maintain an attitude of humility wherein we actively seek resolution with our fellow human beings.  As God wooed Adam, Eve, Gomer, Israel, and us, so too we should seek to woo back those who we believe have fallen into sin into a loving relationship with us and with the Lord.  For the Lord’s love is infinite, and we are called to represent God’s infinite love and forgiveness to our worst enemies.  This is why Jesus challenged us saying,  I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; ...For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mat 5:44-48)  We are called to be examples of perfect love, humility and forgiveness to all people.

Mother Teresa once said, ‘Every person is created in the image and likeness of God. It does not matter if they are rich or poor, healthy or sick, everyone was created to love and to be loved, and by loving one another we love God.’  We are God’s children and we are called to regard each other as God regards us.  God sees the worth in us and in one another that we do not recognize.  When we see with God’s eyes we must love everyone; for he sees within everyone their beauty and potential beauty.  To have feelings of hatred or attitudes of condemnation toward another person is not the path we are to walk as Christians.  For we must be mindful that even the people we have conflicts with are being watched over and prayed over by the angles and saints in heaven.  Jesus reminds us of the importance of remembering each person’ worth in the Gospel of Matthew when He says, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.  What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.  So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Mat 18:10-14)  Indeed the attitude that leads one to feel of exclaim “To hell with him!”, is an indication of not being conformed to God’s will.   God values every one and we are called to do the same.

The Exceptions to the Rule

God’s many examples of reaching out to people throughout the Bible may lead one to question if there is ever a time when God encourages us to break off contact with someone.  There are select cases where God does direct that people be thrown out of communities and that contact be withdrawn or severely limited; yet these cases represent a drastic attempt to illicit repentance on the part of someone doing something that will lead to certain condemnation of their soul.  There are several examples of this call to limit contact with a person caught in sin in the New Testament.

In 2 Thessalonians Paul is writing to a community that is suffering from people disrupting the teachings of the apostolic faith by preaching things blatantly contrary to the gospel.  These people have ceased to work for God’s glory because they said Christ already came and that in him heaven had been established on the earth so they no longer needed to work.  Regarding these lazy people, who are in danger of hell if they maintain their ways, Paul writes to break off contact with them, For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.  Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing.  If any one refuses to obey what we say in this letter, note that man, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not look on him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Th 3:11-15).  Even in this extreme case Paul still exhorts the faithful to “warn him as a brother”.  Therefore the decision to remove an apostate from the community is done in love, with clear communication, and with a heart filled with Christian compassion and concern.

A similar example of when it is directed to cut off or dismiss someone from a community is found in First Corinthians where Paul writes, “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father's wife.  And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.  For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment  in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Cor 5:1-5 )  Here too, however, even while the sinner is being removed from the community, it is done out of concern for his salvation, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

The condition by which the Bible directs that someone be removed from a community is always the situation where a person rejects the gospel teaching.  Their rejection of the gospel may be by their actions (as in the previous examples) or by their words.  Paul’s exhortation to be inflexible as to the preaching of the true gospel is apparent in the following passage from Paul’s letter to the Galatians.  But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again, If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed. (Gal 1:6-9 )

There are dangers to keeping a person as a member of a community who rejects the teachings of the church either by their word or action.  The danger is two-fold:  First, those who live a life rejecting Jesus teachings have by virtue of their actions excommunicated themselves from the Lord.  Therefore, if the church does not declare to them their excommunication, the person in question may think they can continue in their sin and still be in a right relationship with God.  The second danger is the corruption of the faithful.

When those who reject the teachings of the church are actually removed from the church for the good of their salvation, the church still has a responsibility to treat the person with Christian love and compassion; approaching them with a desire to evangelize someone who has lost their faith. Contact with them is to be as a believer to a non-believer. Looking back at the Matthean example, Jesus said, "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church,let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mat 18:15-17)

Only Churches Can Decide

Note that the decision to break off contact with an individual in the New Testament is NEVER an individual decision, but is always decided along with the church community.  There is a sensible reason for having the decision to cut off contact with someone come from a group of faithful Christians, rather than from an individual.  The obvious reason is that when two people argue each one can be convinced he is right; but when the argument is brought to the church, then the issue at hand can be examined more objectively in the light of Jesus’ teachings.

Conclusion

The history of God’s relationship with humanity is that God continually seeks us out.  When we go astray he lets us know how he feels, and continues to attempt to woo us back to be in a right relationship with Him.  God always seeks out the lost sheep because he loves the sheep, knows its worth and potential worth, and understands that the sheep can not survive without His protection.

Just as God loves us, we are called to love each other.  Just as God seeks us out when we sin, we are called to seek out each other.  Our attitude of reaching out and forgiving should be an example of God’s outgoing and merciful love.  He calls us to love our enemies perfectly; understanding that they are created in his image and likeness, and understanding that they too have been created to love and to be loved.

Our primary way of dealing with the interpersonal challenges we face should not be avoidance of issues and each other, but should rather conform to the gospel.  Let us follow our Lord’s teachings by resolving to talk about the issues between us. Let us always continue to reach out to those around us, even as God continues to reach out to us; remembering that such outreach must be done with a spirit of Christian love and concern for the salvation of the soul of our lost brother.

No matter how much we sin and  hide from the Lord, God always calls out to us saying, “Where are you?”.  Let us keep in mind the numerous biblical examples we have of God’s commitment to his people, expressed by his repeated reaching out to those lost in sin; and with the same spirit let us too continually approach one another with steadfast love and understanding, seeking reconciliation in a spirit of Christian love, service and humility.

Where are you?


Der Tavit

 

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Rev. Fr. Tavit Boyajian
Parish Priest


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