"Our God is not a distant God"
In our recent visit to the Grand Canyon we found various view points with views of the Colorado River nearly a mile below the rim. The river looks like a blue ribbon at the bottom of a multicolored gorge. At various locations you can even see patches of white water on the river. From a mile above, the rapids look like a gentle white frothing on an otherwise placid blue.
Flying over the canyon, a guide pointed out some white water and said that at river level, the standing waves of the rapid were from six to ten feet in height. It is one thing to view the turbulent waters from thousands of feet above. The river would look and feel quite different from inside a white water raft, however.
I think in some ways that is like our view of God. We envision God watching us from heaven. We are seen, but from a distance.
In fact, Bette Midler recorded a song "From a Distance" that reminds us things are not always what they seem when viewed from a distance. The chorus of her song goes like this:
God is watching usI wonder if we think that God is so far removed from us that what we do and say really has no effect on God. Or do we believe that God is close and that what we do can bring gladness or sorrow?
God is watching us
God is watching us
From a distance
In part, that is the message of the book of Hosea. Hosea is a man who lived at the same time as Isaiah. Isaiah lived in the south in Judah, but Hosea lived in the north, in what was called Israel.
The northern ten tribes with their capital city of Samaria were in bad shape. They had for the most part turned their backs on God. They gave a tip of the hat to the God who had brought them into the land, but there was no real relationship of trust. They as easily turned to fertility gods when they planted their crops as to the God of Abraham. They had no sense that the Lord really was present with them or that He cared much one way or the other. And they certainly had no sense that their actions or behaviors mattered much as long as they carried out a few simple religious duties.
It's not that they had totally forgotten.
They just didn't think it mattered much.
For them the Lord was just another presence watching them from a distance. The details didn't matter and were probably not even noticed. And with that, their social and moral life decayed. Following the death of king Jeroboam, there were six kings and four of them became king by assassinating his predecessor. The priests of Israel were feathering their own nests and all the while there is a breakdown of moral behavior.
Into this mess, God sent Hosea with a very different kind of message.
Hosea did not stand in the marketplace and thunder about God's judgement--at least not at first, though he did warn them of judgment.
God comes to Hosea and tells him to marry a woman named Gomer...that really was her name. She is called a wife of harlotry. Either she was a loose character to start with or she became it after the marriage. But children are born. Whether or not Hosea is the father or each of them is not certain.
The first child is born and God tells Hosea to name him "God sows".
"God sows" sounds like good news. Who would object to that?
We are all in favor of God planting on our behalf
So far so good. The neighbors would approve.
But by now, everyone in town is probably noticing that Gomer is not wife of the year. Perhaps she is a prostitute or maybe she is out a lot when Hosea is not at home.
A second child is born--a daughter, and Hosea, on God's instructions gives her the name, "not pitied".
The people probably can identify. Here is a child of uncertain parentage. The neighbors likely whisper behind Hosea and Gomer's back and say,
"yeah, he is finally catching on and he has no pity or love for a child who may be someone else's"But when the third child comes along there is an even more pointed name: "not my people".
Hosea lets them know this is meant for them. They are like Gomer in God's eyes.
What God is doing is making Hosea and his family an object lesson to everyone around.
He is saying, "the pain from an unfaithful spouse is exactly the pain I feel with you, Israel, and instead of being my beloved children whom I have planted, you have become "not pitied" and "not my people".
God does not watch us from a distance, where everything looks the same. God is up close and involved, and feels the hurt when we turn our back on Him.
Your life makes a difference to God.
When you are hurting or feeling unimportant or rejected, the Lord knows exactly how you are feeling and what that feels like.
We welcome that.
When you think God is not there and does not care what you do, or when you don't care how God feels when you act, you cause Him pain. The book of Hebrews says that those who fall away from their love of Christ are crucifying Him all over again and subjecting him to open humiliation.
The problem with our human nature is that there are times when we like the idea of God being close and personal. When we face our crisis, we want to know God is close and hears, and cares.
But when we want to live a lifestyle or indulge what we know is wrong, we would prefer God at a distance.
We can distance ourselves if we wish to. It's a funny thing though. We distance ourselves from people when we feel uncomfortable with them, but often we are the most connected to the people we distance from. We are connected by a tie of pain and we don't have the freedom to be around them. Distancing from others, in a perverse way, gives them a negative power in our lives. Freedom only comes through resolving our own inner conflict about that person.
Distancing from God doesn't really give us what we want. Our God is not a distant God. God sees and eventually there will be consequences.
The only way to resolve our conflict with God is to reconnect and deal with what is the issue.
That was Hosea's message--the first part of it at least.
What you do and what you believe makes a difference. It makes a difference to God and will make a difference for us.
What does that mean for us?
There is a poem by Robert Herrick.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Herrick is talking about love and marriage, but Hosea could have said the same.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he's a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he's to setting.
Make hay while the sun shines, because when its cold and rainy, its too late.
Prayer: Lord God, when we turn our back on your love, give us the gift of repentance. Help us to see that your love is real, and that for our sake and yours, we need to embrace it while we can.
Preached by Dr. Harold McNabb
Sunday May 9, 2004
West Shore Presbyterian Church