by Rev. Ian Arnold
It can be a most powerful thing to speak effectively from and out of experience. For someone, for instance, going through a difficult and trying experience it usually means so much more to hear from someone who has been through something similar. There is an immediate rapport. What they are hearing is so much more than well meant encouragement or platitudes.
The clear inferences are that when people arrive in the spiritual world they are helped there by people of a similar background, interests and experiences. It’s because these are people who can relate to the way the newcomer thinks, what he or she may be feeling, the questions that may be running through their minds and the apprehensions that are perhaps there. They “know” their world. They’ve “been there and done that”.
In recent years it has come to be realised that amongst the more effective counsellors of young people are their very own peers. Why? Because they know and understand the world, the challenges, the pressures, the hopes, the vulnerabilities and the uncertainties other young people, in difficulty, are going through.
It’s not about swamping others with their experiences, and it must not be with us. One person’s experience of what seems the same or a very similar experience is never the same as another’s and awful mistakes can be made by presuming it is.
In Old Testament times prophets were frequently called to unusual and challenging experiences in order that the message they would be called on to deliver would have an added edge and even poignancy about it. It made both the formulating and the message and the intensity with which they delivered it all the more powerful.
One such prophet was Hosea and whose prophecy, over fourteen Chapters, you can find in your Bibles, immediately after Daniel. Hosea is the first of the twelve – what are referred to as – “Minor” prophets, but “minor” only in the sense that they are so much shorter than, say, Isaiah or Jeremiah.
Hosea lived at a time of widespread unfaithfulness of his people. (They were terrible). It was in order for him to really have an insight into the sacredness of the relationship they were so cavalier about breaking that Hosea was told to, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” (Chapter 1, verse 2).
Hosea obeyed these instructions and did precisely that. He married Gomer, a prostitute, by whom he has two sons and a daughter. With each birth, and the naming of the child, came a dark message of indictment and warning to the people. What was horrifying though was that Gomer went back to her harlotry from which, for fifteen shekels of silver, Hosea redeemed her. It is a pitiful development but having gone through the experience, Hosea could unusually understand and appreciate the message he was called upon to give. His people, the ancient people of Israel, had played the harlot even before the Lord set them apart as His “special” people. And, though called to a unique relationship with the Lord yet they wantonly lusted after other gods. Read the prophecy, yourself! As you do, you get a picture of a tragically sick Society, yet the people seem to have been brazenly unaware of the nature of what they were doing. “They are all adulterers”, the prophet proclaims,” like an over heated by a baker.” (Chapter 6, verse 4).
The prophecy, though, is not unrelenting condemnation of evil. Woven through it are memorable calls to repentance and, in Chapter 11 one of the most magnificent statements of the steadfastness of the Lord’s love anywhere to be found in the letter of the Word. (If, having read this, you do nothing else, please read Chapter 11, the verses 1 to 12. It is the Lord saying that He is not, after all, merely human, reaching a stage of being able to give up on a rebellious nation. He can’t give up on these, His people. He has been with them from the beginning; from when Israel “was a child”.)
It is central to the Lord’s reaching out to us that here in the prophecy of Hosea, as in other parts of the Word as well, He describes His relationship with us as that of a husband (Himself) and a wife (those of us who seek to grow in the things of His Church). The Lord reaches out seeking a lovely response and commitment form us. The relationship is emphatically reciprocal and monogamous. We receive life from the Lord and give it flesh and body. The promptings of love come to us from Him, to be clothed in the truth we’ve learned. As this marriage of love and truth takes place in our lives the relationship grows ever deeper and stronger.
Always, though, there are our inclinations to draw away from the Lord. We easily fantasise about other Sources of life and forget our dependence on Him. We think to link up with man-made idols and false gods (self-intelligence arising from a falsification of the Word). This is about us playing the harlot. That’s strong stuff, isn’t it? Even earthy and certainly confronting. But it’s what it’s all about. “Harlotry, wine, and new wine enslave the heart. My people ask counsel from their wooden idols, and their staff informs them. For the spirit of harlotry has caused them to stray.” (Chapter 4, verse 13).
Notwithstanding all this is the Lord’s amazing steadfastness towards us and patience with us. His is our God, not subject to human limitations, prone to exasperation or capable of contempt towards us, reaching a point when He would cast us aside, but gently pleading us to rediscover and recover the nobility, beauty and splendour of our holy relationship of marriage to Him. “Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be renewed like grain and grow like a wine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols? I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in me.” (Chapter 14, verses 7 & 8).
This is the upbeat note the prophecy finishes on; the words of a people who have re-affirmed the centrality of their relationship with the Lord and vowing it will never be polluted by their harlotry again.