We just went over Hosea in my prophets class, and I asked my professor a question I’d had for a while: in ancient mythology there’s lots of stories about dramatic relationships between the gods, but I don’t remember hearing much about such emotionally intense ambivalence between gods and humans.
Her reply: It’s true. Generally, ancient gods were busy with their own affairs. If they looked down at humans they were either pleased or displeased, in which case they simply wiped them out. Problem solved. On the other hand, the prophets–especially Hosea–portray YHWH as quite human-like in his jealousy. For the surrounding people, this would have made YHWH seem like sort of a wuss. Gods aren’t supposed to be jealous. They’re supposed to be self-sufficient. They do what they want. What’s up with YHWH? Why does he care so much about this people of his anyway? Don’t like what they’re doing? Kill them off.
As you read Hosea you can feel this incredible tension. YHWH’s fighting with himself. The comparisons Hosea makes with lover and parent are right-on. But who would have thought God could feel so confused, pulled in so many directions? I think Hosea shows that ultimately YHWH leans toward the side of forgiveness, of letting himself get screwed for the sake of his relational commitments. But there’s this very real agony there. YHWH is portrayed as nostalgic, unable to break things off with Israel due to his memories of the “good days.” Sure he’ll probably be left again. Gosh, we know he will. But can he end it? No. He just… can’t.
This fascinates me. I think part of it is it’s within tensions that I often seem to find truth. Here’s a tension. So something about that rings very true. This doesn’t seem like the “right” way for an all-powerful god to act. But it’s the God we’d like to worship if we dare believe in news this good.
And it’s just plain intriguing. Fascinating. It’s stuff like this in the Bible that leave me with this, “Wait, who the hell are you??” awe towards God.