All his friends would have understood if he had left her. She was unfaithful, wandering, adulterous–plain and simple, she was a whore. The children, who all bore his name, didn’t all look very much like him. He was always having to go after her, always having to hunt her down in bars and strip joints and other men’s houses. He was always having to bail her out of some mess or another–and, that wasn’t cheap or easy. So, everyone would have understood if he had left her. Some would have even applauded. Some would have said, “Well, it’s about time! She’s been playing him for a fool for way too long!”
But, he didn’t leave her. He couldn’t leave her. It wasn’t that he didn’t get frustrated with her–angry, furious, raging mad. But, he couldn’t leave her. He had made a promise–not just to her, but also to God. And, truth be told, it was often only the promise to God that kept him going. He was, he said, being faithful to God, not to her. And that mattered to him more than anything–more than her unfaithfulness, more than the shame he felt about her lifestyle, more than the fantasies (and the advice of well-meaning friends) that he might really have a much better life without her or with another.
What he really hoped was that the friends and neighbors who watched might just get the point he was trying to make with his life, with his faithfulness. He hoped they would think of the God who refused to let them go, the God who searched them out, the God who was always faithful, even when they weren’t. He didn’t know whether it would turn out that way or not, of course, but he was committed to keeping his promises as a sign of the promise-keeping God. So, he couldn’t leave her. He could only continue to love her and keep trying to bring her home.
I love that story of Hosea and his relationship to his unfaithful wife Gomer–really, of course, the story of God and God’s relationship to God’s unfaithful people. I can’t help but think it has something to say to us in the PC(USA)–perhaps, especially, to those who might be considering leaving because we seem to have become an unfaithful church.
I, too, have been very concerned in recent years about the direction we may be going. I, too, have grieved over events that seemed to denigrate our Lord Jesus, question his atoning gift for us, re-name God to fit our own ideas. I, too, have been frustrated by what often seems an anything-goes approach to Scripture and a selective disregard for the clear meaning of our Constitution and the application of its discipline. I, too, am appalled at the vast amount of time and money–not to mention, words–we have wasted fighting with each other instead of moving into the world with the Good News of the saving work of Jesus Christ for all people everywhere
But, I will not leave this denomination–and that is not become I am somehow more righteous or faithful than those who might be thinking of leaving. These are my reasons: (1) I have been called by God to serve God in the PC(USA), and I have taken ordination vows to serve God and God’s people in this context. (2) There is no perfect church out there–every denomination manages to be “unfaithful” or “unseeing” in its own way, I think. So, where would I go? Would, for example, The Evangelical Presbyterian Church welcome me as a woman called by God to ordained ministry? (Only in a “local option” kind of way, I think. How ironic is that?) (3) I have a responsibility to those who cannot leave. I think of the tender compassion of Jesus toward the people who were “like sheep without a shepherd.” Leaving them so that I can be free from hassle or imperfection or doctrinal impurity strikes me as abandoning the “sheep” to the “wolves” who would destroy them. (Hosea, abandoning the children to their unfit mother.) If the denomination is as bad as I sometimes think it is, how can I walk away from these folks?
Like Hosea, like Jesus, we are called to lay down our lives, empty ourselves of our “druthers” and serve the Lord by serving His people where He has placed us. Perhaps, like Hosea, we have been called by God to stay with an unfaithful wife, to demonstrate, by our love for her and our service to her, the great love of God for God’s people.
San Pedro Presbyterian Church
San Antonio, Texas