The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Hosea (2)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Problem in the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (3)

Lent 1

          As the introduction to the Book of the Twelve Hosea gives a detailed profile of Israel’s problem. And since Israel bears humanity’s problem as well as its future and destiny, Israel’s problem is our problem too. And how YHWH is and what YHWH does to and for Israel is of utmost interest to us as well.

          Lent is the time between two deaths – our death with Christ in baptism and our death at the end of our earthly lives. That first death enables us to embrace and live well toward that second death. Utter honesty is required for us to live well so it appropriate for us to begin Lent with as brutally frank an appraisal of our situation as we can bear. Walter Brueggemann once claimed that Israel has given the church the inestimable gift of modeling a faith that holds together utter realism and extravagant hope at one and the same time. It is in this spirit that we will proceed. And remember, it is the church that is our primary focus in these reflections. Personal insights are derivative from them (though no less important).

          This problem is described variously and poignantly in Hosea. But in 5:4 through the prophet God gives a succinct and acute diagnosis of it: “For the spirit of whoredom is within them, and they do not know YHWH.”

          Prostitution or adultery are common metaphors for Israel and humanity’s root problem: idolatry.

          Idolatry is best parsed as I-dolatry. For at its core this phenomenon is a radical assertion of the imperial I. Our heart becomes “curved in on itself,” to use Luther’s penetrating phrase. We become sinners in that s-I-n, the malignant reign of the imperial I taints all that we are and do. This imperial I sees only itself, everything else through itself, and its own reflection in everything else.

          We in the west, and in the church in the west, have suckled at the breast of this primal distortion of the people we were meant to be for so long that what we take as normal, even natural, are but reflections of our whorish inclinations. And in the abundance of our lovers (the variety of our idols) we lose our relationship to YHWH!

          And in losing that relationship, we lose ourselves and our reason for being. Instead of bearing the image of YHWH who made us to be protectors and nurturers of those and the world around us, we are stamped with the false image (the 666 of the book of Revelation) of the unholy trinity we allow to guide and direct our lives: Mars (violence), Mammon (stuff), and Me (individualism).

          I-dolatry engulfs us and sours the whole of life. Nothing is exempt from its death-dealing touch. John Calvin called the fallen human mind “a factory for idols.”

Hear now the following witnesses to I-dolatry’s reach and scope:

          Our relation to God:

“We have lived for too long in a world, and tragically in a Church, where the wills and affections of human beings are regarded as sacrosanct as they stand, where God is required to command what we already love, and to promise what we already desire.”
― N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

          Our relation to ourselves:

“Every man becomes the image of the God he adores.
He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes dead.
He who loves corruption rots.
He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow.
He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing.”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Our relation to our faith itself:

"Orthodoxy is idolatry if it means holding the 'correct opinions about God' - 'fundamentalism' is the most extreme and salient example of such idolatry - but not if it means holding faith in the right way, that is, not holding it at all but being held by God, in love and service. Theology is idolatry if it means what we say about God instead of letting ourselves be addressed by what God has to say to us. Faith is idolatrous if it is rigidly self-certain . . ."
- John D. Caputo

Our relation to our nation:

"Nationalism is our form of incest, is our idolatry, is our insanity. 'Patriotism' is its cult... Just as love for one individual which excludes the love for others is not love, love for one's country which is not part of one's love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship."
- Erich Fromm

Our relation to life in a digital world:

"We are not witnessing the flow of information so much as pure spectacle, or information made sacred, ritually unreadable. The small monitors of the office, home and car become a kind of idolatry here, where crowds might gather in astonishment. "Hysteria at high speeds, day to day, minute to minute. People in free societies don't have to fear the pathology of the state. We create our own frenzy, our own mass convulsions, driven by thinking machines that we have no final authority over. The frenzy is barely noticeable most of the time. It's simply how we live." She finished with a laugh…THE TRUTH WAS MAPPED IN SLOW AND CERTAIN DECLINE. He was seeing something elaborately different from what he encountered step by step in the ordinary run of hours. He had to learn how to see it correctly, find a crack in the world where it might fit."
-Dom DeLillo

In short, St. Augustine said it best: we become what we adore. When our selves occupy our field of vision we can be certain the shadows that haunt our lives are not those of transcendence but of our own projections. In this respect, Feuerbach was right. We have made ourselves, personally and as a whole, made ourselves little gods instead of allowing God to make us the “little Christs” (Luther) we are meant to be.

This “spirit of whoredom,” our inclination to I-dolatry, was the problem in Hosea’s 8th century B. C. and remains the problem in 2016 A. D. What shall or can we do about it? Tune in tomorrow and we’ll see.

How does I-dolatry manifest itself in your life?

Remembering that genuine honesty and transparency happens because we are loved and accepted (yesterday’s reflection) and therefore can risk the pain of really looking into ourselves, spend some time reflecting on the I-dols you can identify.

Pray and sit with your reflections.





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