Today’s Chocolate: Theo Orange 70% Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Hosea 5
I’m gonna ruin the magic today. I’ve been writing posts in advance lately and building up a buffer. But Hosea 5 stymied me. Some theodicy-related stuff was coming to a head, inside my head, and I’ve been sitting on it for two days without writing a post. I think I’m finally ready to tackle the chapter though, so let’s return to the world of Hosea, where God continues chastening ancient Israel for their unfaithfulness.
The first half of the chapter emphasizes Israel’s guilt for their crimes. I missed that on the first read-through, however, because it also emphasizes God withdrawing his presence as a consequence of their sin. Speaking through Hosea, God declares, “The revolters have gone deep in depravity, but I will chastise all of them. …For now, O Ephraim, you have played the harlot” (2-3). Just like Hosea chose the prostitute Gomer for his wife in the first three chapters, God chose Israel for his people in spite of their unfaithfulness. Everyone’s making choices, and Israel’s choice has been to sell themselves out to corrupt nations and false gods. It’s on Israel.
And that’s why God withdraws his presence. It’s the sentence for the crime. Hosea writes: “Their deeds will not allow them to return to their God, for a spirit of harlotry is within them, and they do not know the Lord” (4). And I talk about verdicts and judgment, but the prevailing tone here isn’t that of the courtroom. The consequences are relational. “They will go with their flocks and herds to seek the Lord, but they will not find Him; He has withdrawn from them” (6), says Hosea. Israel can’t expect to commit idolatry and spiritual adultery without damaging their relationship to God. Personal beings get hurt when you pull this crap on them, and God refuses to reward Israel’s bad behavior with his continued presence.
But something still gives me pause. I can’t help reading the last portion of the chapter in light of the distinction between punishment, discipline, and criminal rehabilitation. For a moment, God appears to cast Israel’s sin as a sickness, however self-inflicted it might be: “When Ephraim saw his sickness…then Ephraim went to Assyria and sent to King Jareb. But he is unable to heal you or to cure you of your wound” (13). A human ruler can’t fix what’s wrong with Israel. The disease is beyond the reach of physical physicians.
But is God about to heal it? He declares:
For I will be like a lion to Ephraim
And like a young lion to the house of Judah.
I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away,
I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver.
I will go away and return to My place
Until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face;
In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (14-15)
This isn’t rehabilitation. And a part of me would be hard-pressed to call it discipline. Even if rehabilitation or discipline hurts, it’s intended to bring about the well-being of the one suffering; as the author of Hebrews says, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:11). But punishment is a consequence for evil. It’s either retributive justice, inflicting proportionate suffering on the party that initially wronged another, or else it’s intended to deter crime through negative consequences. Punishment, in itself, isn’t concerned with the well-being of the one punished.
Once again, I find myself of two minds, and I’m left with questions: does a lion go on the attack to discipline its prey or heal its infirmities? Can God act as a lion, bring out the claws and teeth and still cause his people to suffer for their own well-being as an act of love? Yes, God’s people have done evil; yes, they deserve to be punished. But tearing them to pieces like a lion and then walking away until they come back to God? That sounds more like an excerpt from the Stockholm Syndrome playbook than the compassion of a loving father. How is this even supposed to work?