Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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


The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The God of the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (2)

Ash Wednesday

          Lent begins with Ash Wednesday’s great call to national repentance from the Book of the Twelve in Joel 2. We will get to Joel 2 in time but we will not start there in our reflections. We will start where everything Christian starts – with God. More particularly, with YHWH, the covenant, personal, familial God of Israel.

          Everything, I mean everything, in life begins with and is colored by who we believe God to be. In 1995 Joan Osborne released her hit song “One of Us.” In it she asked two questions:

          -If God had a name what would it be?

-If God had a face what would it look like?

Is God personal and can we know God, these are the questions whose answers determine in large measure the tenor and texture of our lives. So, I ask you, this Ash Wednesday 2016, is your God personal and can/do you know your God?

A decade or so ago, Christian Smith and his associates published the results of a wide-ranging study of the religious lives of American teens. They distilled a set of five convictions that made up a sort of creed most teens bought into in some form. And most surprising of all, Smith discovered the teens had gotten this creed from their parents! What these researchers had discovered was not some wild eccentric teen speculations but rather mainstream cultural beliefs. Two about God stood out. First, God created the world and keeps an eye on it. And second, God’s not much involved in our lives. Maybe in a pinch to help us out of a jam, but otherwise not much.

This deistic[1] God is, outside his creative activity, unknown. Whether personal or impersonal, good, evil or morally neutral, loving or indifferent to its creation, is beyond human knowledge. In the west we have tended to assume that this deity is morally good, strict, judgmental, and quick to punish. I call this deity the “God with a Scowl.”

Far too often passed off as the Christian God, the “God with a Scowl” is no such thing! Even though typified by the famous puritan Jonathan Edward’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” this deity has nothing to do with Christian faith.[2] The God made known in the Bible, the God of Israel and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is utterly different in every way from this!

Hosea announces this in his very first verse. “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea . . .” “Lord” is the translation of the Greek word used to translate the unutterable name of Israel’s God (YHWH). YHWH is the name God revealed to Moses at the burning bush, the name by which he would rescue and dwell with, and know and be known by his people forever more. YHWH’s passion for his people, his love for them, moved him to make a promise to their forbears that they would be his people, he would bless and protect them, and through them he would bless the world. YWHW is a “blessing” God, not an angry, vengeful smiter as Richard Dawkins and the so-called New Atheists (which are really nothing but petulant old atheists) like to portray him. No doubt there are some aspects of his work in the Old Testament that raise some troubling questions, but the overwhelming witness of the Old Testament echoes YHWH’s own in Ex.34:

“The Lord, the Lord,
a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger,
and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
yet by no means clearing the guilty,
but visiting the iniquity of the parents
upon the children
and the children’s children,
to the third and the fourth generation.”

          YHWH, this YHWH of Ex.34, the anti- “God with a Scowl,” introduces himself in the first verse of the Book of the Twelve, and this confession of his character is cited four more times in it (Joel 2:13; Jon.4:2; Mic.7:16-18; and Nah.1:3). This great confession of Israel’s God and faith, four times cited and everywhere implicit in the use of “Lord” says this is a deity who wants to be with his people, to know and be known, to share life together with them in peace and harmony. His love far out-strips his need to discipline his unruly children (v.7) and even that discipline serves his love for us.

          Any other view of God that compromises this total and unconditional love for his creatures is a false view of God. An idol. A damnable caricature that infects far too many people today and robs them of the relationship with God that alone makes and keeps human life human.  

          Does the “God with a Scowl” have any place in your view of God?

          Can you identify why?

How does this view of God affect your ability to love God with all you have and are and your neighbor (friend, family member, stranger, enemy) as yourself?

What can you do, as often as you need to do it, this Lent to remind yourself of who the Bible’s God really is?

Like I said, everything Christian begins here. And Lent is no exception.







[1] Deism is the belief that arose in the Enlightenment (17th – 18th centuries in Western Europe) that God was the Creator who set the world on its course and then left it to its own devices.
[2] Indeed, Edwards’ thought about God was on the whole much better and more biblical than this.

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