I will make you my wife forever,
showing you righteousness and justice,
unfailing love and compassion.
I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
and you will finally know me as the Lord.
These verses sound like something you would hear in wedding vows. They conjure images of a bride, all in white, glowing with happiness, a smile on her face and perhaps a tear in her eye. Her groom, facing her, completely awestruck by her beauty and his fortune that she chose him. Everyone in attendance is filled with happiness and hope for this couple’s future.
But, that’s not the image for the prophet Hosea. These words are indicative of wedding language, but the reality is they appear in his book when Gomer’s infidelity has left him with 2 illegitimate children and eventually, the humiliation of buying back his own wife at the price of a slave. The images that come aren’t of a wedding, but of a determined man bringing home a dirty, barefoot woman, clothed in rags and at the end of her rope. For her part, her return isn’t motivated by love so much as it is the reality that she is out of options.
Sometimes, I think about the prophets as if they were cranky old men with long beards, holding scrolls, fingers wagging in judgement. But, Hosea helps me remember they were just humans, with hopes that were shattered and hearts that broke. Their experiences mirror God’s experiences with his rebellious, stiff necked, unfaithful people. He knows that his bride isn’t standing before him glowing and white, she’s dirty and wrung out. But, he wants her anyway. He uses words like unfailing love and compassion to describe his heart toward her.
That steadfastness, that relentless pursuit, that devotion, that’s grace. We dress up the word grace in our minds, making it sound like a pretty, delicate, almost dainty thing. But, it’s not. Grace doesn’t find you on your wedding day, so much as it finds you when you’re being dragged kicking and screaming because you’ve come to the end of yourself.
“Grace is not gentle or made-to-order. It often comes disguised as loss, or failure, or unwelcome change.” Kathleen Norris
(image: Hosea and Gomer by Cody F. Miller)