“Into the Light: Finding Hope Through Prayers of Lament”
Lesson 8: God laments
Hosea 11:1-9; Luke 19:41-44
It has been years since their daughter has contacted them. She does not pick up when her parents call her. They are not even sure where she lives now. In high school, she fell in with a bad crowd. Her grades dropped and she started skipping school. Her parents were deeply worried, but every attempt to reach her failed. Now she is gone. Memories of the delight that they had with their daughter as an infant, a toddler and as a child bring fresh pain. Sadness, worry, regret and anger cycle through her parents’ souls, never far below the surface.
Such is the suffering of parents whose child is lost to them. It is the suffering of God as well. The prophet Hosea paints a vivid picture of how God, like a mother, tenderly treated the children of Israel.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness,
with bands of love.
I was to them like those
who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:3-4)
As Hosea chronicles in his prophesies, the children of Israel run off to the god Baal, who promises abundant crops and children. The knowledge of God is abandoned. Righteousness only finds rocky soil, and so it withers. Lies abound and there is a huge crop of court litigations, false business practices, violence, adultery and injustice. Israel trusts in its power and armies and not in the Lord who provides for them.
We know the lure of the gods of prosperity and power. We are seduced and bombarded in our media with messages of what possessions, power and wealth can bring us. Our computer search engines and Facebook pages have ads geared specifically to our past purchases, our preferred news outlets and our possible future desires. Daily, even hourly, our attention is drawn away from God and God’s will for human life.
The Hebrew prophets, Hosea among them, warn that God will leave Israel to the consequences of their faithless behavior. God will punish Israel for its flagrant sins. But Israel pays no attention to the prophets and does not return to God. Israel “sows the wind, and reaps the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7). The kings make dangerous political decisions leaving Israel open to the whirlwind of destruction so the Assyrian army lays waste to Israel in 721 B.C.
But God cannot abandon Israel. In agony, God cries out:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel?
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
the Holy One in your midst,
and I will not come in wrath. (Hosea 11:8)
The raw emotion of God’s lament reveals God’s pain at human behavior, which is destructive to ourselves, loving relationships and human community. It is like the cries of some parents of children who struggle with addiction. Repeated warnings and interventions make no impression. The child will not turn toward healing, and the parents know heartbreak.
Jesus weeping over Jerusalem has this same poignancy. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” (Luke 19:41-42). Jesus teaches us the way of peace in loving our enemies and seeking the welfare of all others, but we rebel against Jesus. We fail to practice justice, equity and compassion for all people.
I find it unsettling that God and Jesus lament over our actions and inactions. God’s sorrow brings home how damaging our behavior can be. We hurt God. We may think of God as high and lifted up, untouched by us as God watches from a great distance, but it is not so.
God is deeply affected by our destructive conduct. It makes God angry and sad. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that God extends warm and tender compassion to us. God, as a parent, is like the loving father in the parable of the prodigal sons in Luke 15. The father scans the horizon waiting for our return. God throws a party when we come home. God continues to love us.
Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child,
Like a father who runs to welcome the prodigal home,
God is faithful still. (from “A Brief Statement of Faith”)
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