"God the Father and God the Mother" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer
A pastor and the Chair of Deacons are playing golf. On the first tee, the pastor hits a beautiful drive straight down the fairway. The Deacon Chair shanks his shot into a sandtrap and yells, “*#@! I missed!” to which the Pastor replies, “Careful, God will strike you down for that kind of language.” They get to the second tee and Pastor lands her ball within inches of the hole while Deacon Chair’s ball sails over the green. Again he says, “#@*!, I missed!” and the Pastor responds, “Careful, God’s going to get you.”
You can see where this is going. The Pastor has an excellent round of golf while the Deacon Chair struggles. Each time the Deacon Chairs says, “*#@!, I missed!” and the Pastor responds with something about God smiting him. This continues until the 18th hole when the clouds darken, the wind picks up, and lightning flashes down hitting not the foul-mouthed Deacon Chair, but the Pastor. Looking around in bewilderment, the Deacon Chair hears a voice from above say, “*#@!, I missed!”
If there’s a single stereotype that comes to mind when we talk about the God of the Old Testament, it’s of an angry, wrathful deity doing scary things we can’t quite wrap our heads around. God in the Old Testament kills people for merely touching the Ark. God’s anger is kindled when people worship other gods. And, if you Google God and lightning, you’re not only likely to find the joke I just told you but a plethora of others. The imagery of God smiting people is often fodder for cartoon strips like Gary Larson’s The Far Side and Jim Carrey has that unforgettable line in Bruce Almighty, “Smite me, O Mighty Smiter!”
Of course having a sense of humor about our religion is necessary. We should be able to laugh at ourselves. But we Christians have a tendency of divorcing ourselves from the stories about God that make us uncomfortable. The God of the Old Testament seems scary and unpredictable. We much prefer Jesus who let the little children come to him. He’s our friend, our Savior, the pictures we’ve seen all our lives in Sunday School. He is familiar.
But we tend to forget that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone in the Old Testament, flipped tables while brandishing a whip in the Temple, and called a woman who came to him for help a dog.
We tend to forget that Jesus was and is God.
And when we forget this, when we separate “our God” from the Old Testament God we miss things. We miss God’s graciousness and passionate love for His creation. We miss the glorious language of Psalmists who pour out their hearts the Almighty. We miss how many chances God gives the people to return to Her. And we miss beautiful passages such as this morning’s chapter from Hosea.
Hosea is a Minor Prophet - “Minor” being due to the length of the book, not it’s importance - writing in 8th century Israel. The time-stamp of this morning’s text is 200 years after King Jeroboam and things have not improved in Israel or Judah. Hosea story begins with his unfortunate marriage, commanded by God, to a woman named Gomer. It’s not a happy union, and the text makes it clear the conflict between Hosea and Gommer is a direct reflection of the state of God’s relationship with Israel.
In the chapter’s before this morning’s reading the Lord pours out His frustration and heartbreak with Israel and Judah. Then we reach this poem in chapter 11 and God’s tone changes dramatically.
The Lord speaks of loving Her son Israel from childhood, teaching Ephraim - one of the 12 tribes and often used as a way to talk about the whole of Israel - to walk, lifting him “like a baby to my cheek,” bending down to feed him. Any parent will recognize these as the tender actions of parent with a beloved child, but sadly all of God’s efforts have been spurned by the people. As my Old Testament professor Dr. David Garber notes, we read in verse 5 that “despite God’s loving care and instruction, the people [turn] away, ultimately choosing subjugation to Assyria instead of the loving embrace of God.”
At this point in history Assyria is becoming a major power. Egypt has long been a world power and Israel is caught in between. The rub comes when the people put their trust in Assyria and submit to the political powers that dominate the region rather than trusting God. Despite God’s best efforts He must watch as His son Israel makes choices to move farther and father away from Her love and care. And so in these verses we hear the deep pathos of God. We hear Her internal monologue, Her heartbreak and frustration. The once loving relationship between God and Israel has disintegrated. Father God is utterly exasperated and seems to be leaning toward tough love. The kind of love that would allow Israel to suffer the consequences of their actions.
But then we get to verse 8 and “see a rare glimpse into God’s inner turmoil over the actions of [Her] child...the thought of punishing this child literally causes God’s heart to turn over upon itself…[and] while God feels the anger...any parent disrespected by a child might, God rises above the desire to punish Israel.” “How can I give up on you?” Father God asks. “How can I turn you loose and let you be ruined?” Mother God wonders aloud.
Let’s be clear, as Dr. Michael J. Chan points out, “between verses 7-8 there is no change in Israel, only a change in God. Rejecting wrath and hideness, God brings forth new promises: ‘I’m not going to act on my anger. I’m not going to destroy Ephraim.’” Put another way, God decides not to act as we humans would. Recognizably parental though He might be, God is still God. Despite Her exasperation, hurt and frustration Mother God’s profound, divine hurt gives way to her profound, divine love.
If you close your eyes you can imagine the Divine Parent’s pacing stopping abruptly, His furrowed brow easing, His stormy face clearing, and His arms reaching out in love to Israel as he says, “This is my child.”
The Chronicles of Narnia are among my favorite books. In fact, Narnia was the first book series I even read and of course the Christ figure in C.S. Lewis’s world is a lion named Aslan. We first hear of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as the Pevensie children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - learn about this new world they’ve discovered.
Upon learning that Aslan is a lion and not a man Lucy, the youngest Pevensie, has this exchange with the children’s friends Mr. and Mrs. Beaver:
“Is he-quite safe? I shall fear rather nervous about meeting a lion.
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
In the ancient Near East lion imagery is often associated with kings, particually with the King of Assyria “with whom the people of Israel were so often entangled. YHWH, however is the real king of the ancient world… and this convergence of lion and bird imagery is both a boon and a threat.” As a lion, God has the power to consume the birds, but again the Almighty acts counter to how we’d expect, counter to how we would act, and instead rescues the birds.
More importantly the God of the Old Testament, of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Naomi and Ruth, the God who became Christ among us, who is today as She was at the time of Hosea a loving, all encompassing, jealous, and grace-filled God is not safe but is good. That’s why this imagery of the lion is so perfect. For while the lion’s roar is an invitation to be followed, only a fool would think this lion tame.
What’s more, this lion, this Divine Parent is recognizable to us but clearly not us. In fact, that’s the Good News this morning my friends; no matter what else we understand about God, God is always both and. What I mean is God is both Father and Mother. God is both like us emotionally and capable of mercy we cannot imagine. God is both angry and compassionate. God is both an untamed lion who’s roar calls us home and Jesus the Christ who wraps his arms around little children. God is both a parent, nuzzling the cheek of Her newborn child, a newborn Himself totally dependant on those around him, and a suffering servant who gives the most it’s possible to give of Himself. To sum it up succinctly; God is, and God is always faithful.
So whatever image of God speaks to you - lion, Mother, Father, Holy One, Christ Jesus - know that they’re all part of the unfathomable being that is our Creator. Lean into that image, explore others, and know that no matter what, you are loved. Amen.