When my mom was living in a nursing home there was a certain amount of sorrow that came with each visit. She would beg me to take her out of there, something we all know I couldn’t do. There were living with her persons she would never meet—dozens of forgotten souls lining hallways or abandoned out of sight and mind somewhere asleep.
I discovered that, as humans, we have a tolerance level for heartache. When I could, I did visit, but I could understand why some people might depersonalize the elderly and tend to them like one might empty a cat pan. I won’t justify this level of indifference but I can understand how the human capacity to empathize with another’s pain has limits. We sometimes do what is required of us by ethical standards, as an expression of a tearless love, but the ability to ‘feel’ is severely restricted.
When someone’s spouse confessed unfaithfulness to me as a pastor I observed at times a level of suffering for which I was speechless. One of them might have been called the victim but both were. The path to reconciliation, if one could be found, was probably a long, windy road through harsh feelings, unscheduled confrontations, and not a few sleepless, tearful nights. Adjusting or learning to accept or understand what had happened is a fragmented process, broken promises mingled in with the debris of accusations, fault finding, and ultimatums. As a counselor I could not feel sympathy as they perhaps hoped I would. My marriage was not hanging by an emotional thread over this abyss.
Now, this last example, for those astute enough to see it already: I am talking about Hosea and Gomer in the Bible and they simply are a microcosm of God and the “Children of Israel.” This was the pastor’s topic in church recently and I want to believe I would have presented the prophet’s thoughts the same as he did. Unfortunately, we anesthetize the text before operating on it. We send the Lord’s thoughts to the taxidermist. Our remarks sound good but there is no life in them, no tears, no agony. Yet the text is overflowing with deep, churning feelings, God yelling out His pain.
As he [the Lord] says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,” – Romans 9:25
she is not my wife, and I am not her husband. – Hosea 2:2
My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. – Hosea 11:8, 10
No congregation is prepared to ‘feel’ the hurt God must be exhibiting in the original language. We are probably afraid to profile a prostitute, for one. We are too ‘holy’ to even discuss such things. The very nature of the subject is restricted and there are children seating in some of those chairs.
We have also done God an injustice here because a major subject in the entire Bible is the burden of this prophet, of which he now has a personal understanding. We not only ignore the fact that a lack of faithfulness toward the God that loves us grieves Him, but when we sought a theological description of Him we invented names that fit our interests and desires and not His! We call Him ‘Jehovah-Jireh’ which was the name Abraham gave to a place not God, while God’s name ‘Jealous’ never made the theology book.
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. – Exodus 34:14
There is also a concern that any attempt at describing God’s heart on this subject of idolatry (in any form) has to be done in the spirit God Himself wrote it. It does not necessarily serve inspiration’s cause when we yell from the pulpit. Volume without the correct passion would not honor the message we purport to herald.
When Israel melted down some jewelry and molded the liquid gold into a calf, idol worship was obvious, but we might have a few people trying to expunge from their daily routine some perfectly good activity. Maybe some will feel guilty for no reason, which is never good. We have struck a rock we should have spoken to—if you know what I mean.
At least now you know why a forty minute sermon takes all week to prepare. It has to be slow cooked in an atmosphere of prayer before some truth is tender enough to feed the soul.