And I want to know about God's love. But God's love can't be described on the pages of a book. The Bible tells the story, and the words on the page help, yet knowing this love doesn't come easily for me.
Of course, I have my moments, times when I grasp a small sliver of his huge gift. And when those moments come, the love rushes over me in indescribable waves of joy. I can feel the warmth of His hand, wrapped fully in his embrace. It is then that I know.
And recently, the words from J. Ellsworth Kalas (Grace in a Tree Stump) brought me to this knowing.
Grace in a Tree Stump is a fantastic book. As I was reading through the Old Testament, I was feeling so lost in the wrath of God that I searched for a book that might give insight into some of these stories of war and anger. And Kalas has answers - profound and amazing examples of God working in even some of the most hideous stories.
And speaking of hideous stories... Kalas tells of Hosea and his wife Gomer. Hosea was a prophet, and God called him to marry a wife that wouldn't be faithful to him. Hosea lives through her betrayal and desertion until God tells Hosea to get her back and love her well. It was through this metaphor that God wanted to show Israel his love manifesto: no matter how much you sin, God was still going to come after you, begging for your love.
I've read this story plenty of times, and the loss and sadness inherent in Hosea's suffering never translated for me into a real understanding of God's love until I read these words of Kalas, "This is a God who follows errant humanity down the unfaithfulness of our backslidings, through the alleys and back streets and escape patterns of life, even to the slave markets into which we humans sell ourselves. And let it be said, lest we see ourselves with jaundiced eyes, that a slave is a slave, whether in the addicts' recovery ward or in the distracting loveliness of the concert hall. Only the setting is changed, to deflect our egos. Wherever and whatever, God will pursue us and seek to bring us back. This is love quite beyond logic, beyond good senes or even good taste. But after all, whoever expected love to be marked by good taste? Call it grace. And in the Old Testament, call it Hosea."
Kalas adds that this desperate, real love explains even some of the most difficult passages of the Old Testament: "It's an unlikely picture of God, is it not? To be God is to be in control, not to be susceptible to the whims of others. God, one thinks, should give commands, not solicit favor or affection. A solicitous God is almost a blasphemy... Yet this is the picture of God that emerges all through the Bible. This may help us understand some of the dramatic language of the Old Testament, where we're told that God is a "jealous God," and where some of the divine activity seems quite petty. The Old Testament writers are never cautious about showing God in such light; it is as if they took for granted (and expected us to do the same) that when one loves intensely, one sometimes does foolish things, the sort of things that can't be explained..."
Is this true? Is this the reason for the anger and frustration? Is this why the Jews had to go to Babylon? And spend 40 years in the desert? And be torn into two kingdoms? And so on and so on?
Most of my life, I looked at those stories as punishment for sin. God as a punishing God. And this is part of it. God wants obedience (but that's for another post...). But what if Kalas is right and God is also just really, deeply in love?
And so here we are... part of a huge love story. God loves us madly, so madly that he, like Hosea, would buy us from slavery after we had prostituted ourselves to the gods of money and ambition and power and beautiful houses and Facebook.
I still can't understand that magnitude of love. But I feel the beautiful wave sweeping over me, and I am in awe.