* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hosea: The Consequences of Desperation

We've looked at the first three chapters of Hosea. The remainder of the book is almost entirely a catalogue of colorful ways to say that people have committed idolatry and Yahweh will punish them accordingly. Twice (Hos 11:8-11 and Hos 14) the author suggests that Yahweh is too compassionate to destroy Israel and Judah, perhaps suggesting that there will be hope after a time of consequence. Most of the book, however, is a single-minded poetic indictment.

It may be worth taking a moment to go over familiar ground and challenge the idea that bad things happen because God is punishing people, and good things happen because God is being merciful. In fact, the author of Hosea even detaches the religious and moral behavior of individuals from the consequences of a nation when he claims that Yahweh will concentrate his punishment on the priests and leaders that led their communities toward destruction (Hos 4:14-5:4). It's still safe to say that the author of Hosea is commenting on a perceived relationship between Yahweh and the nations of Judah and Israel, not between Yahweh and individuals living in those nations. And as we have observed before, for all of the undesirable things that happened to the nation of Israel (and eventually Judah) there are clear political, economic, and natural causes.

So, despite the lengthy pronouncement of divine disappointment and punishment in Hosea, we can realistically say that undesirable consequences sometimes follow human behavior. Perhaps it is the case that undesirable consequences more often follow behavior based on fear (including greed, oppression, and hostility). Or perhaps the undesirable occurrences in life are simply easier to work through for those individuals who are living based on something deeper and more solid than superficial and irrational fears. Perhaps living by a clear set of values and guiding principles that support justice, equity, and compassion simply offers people a way to make sense of their lives during undesirable circumstances while still maintaining a sense of personal responsibility.

The book of Hosea certainly seems to point to some degree of personal accountability on the part of at least some of the people of Israel, but he also seems to suggest that their only chance of managing crises is to hope that Yahweh will be merciful and provide supernatural aid. As history has demonstrated time and again, prayer alone -- even sincere prayer -- does not manage crises and initiate meaningful change in one's life or in the life of a community or nation. People must act in accord with their prayers or wishes or deep guiding principles if those things are to have any real value. The author of Hosea, for just a brief moment, suggests what acting in accord would look like. Obviously, he thinks that people need to stop worshiping inanimate objects and serving foreign gods in ways that are incompatible with the practices of the Yahweh cult, but in Hos 12:6-8 he also admonishes people to keep the principles of love, justice, and honesty as priorities in their lives.
 People in Hosea's day may not have been so different from individuals today in their propensity to run toward any possible source of protection or relief. Whether one melts down a bunch of silver into an idol, throws oneself into workaholic commitments, entertains reckless behavior in personal relationships, becomes obsessed with how much money one can get from others, suddenly adopts more devout or fanatical religious behaviors, or succumbs to the more easily identified addictions of alcohol or drugs, desperation is often at the root. When we feel incapable of handling the challenges we face, we have a tendency to look for something outside of ourselves that can handle it for us, or at least help us forget that the challenge exists. Desperation leads us away from our true values and principles, and toward frantic and relentless fear.

Desperation is often based on lies we have accepted as truth. Being honest about ourselves and other people is one tool we have to dismantle desperation. Taking away the mythology and the angry threats of divine vengeance, one interpretation of Hosea is simply that life is better when we treat one another (and ourselves) with respect, when we let go of the fears that can prompt us to degrade ourselves or victimize others and instead trust in principles that compel us to see human value more clearly. We are sometimes not as prepared as we would like to be for the circumstances in which we find ourselves, and yet we have incredible resources within our selves and in our relationships with others. Those resources become easier for us to acknowledge when we live with integrity to meaningful guiding principles.

No doubt, giving in to fear and desperation is easier; living with intentionality requires a bit more of us. It's also more rewarding, in our lives, in the lives of people around us, and in the world.

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