We most often think of unrequited love as the unreciprocated love of one person for another – very often seen and most dangerous in adolescence. It is in this period of life in what call the ‘flush of first love’ that rejection is, very often, the most acute, unexpected and dangerous – and can lead to the tragic circumstance which I have witnessed on more than one occasion.
But as we suggested in our last post – the issue of unrequited love can also take place within a marriage or relationship of much longer standing. Love grows cold or, as we see in many cases today, another love takes the heart, passion and attention of one party within the relationship. This is no less dangerous – and again, sadly, I have known couples, one of whom has taken their own life in the most tragic of circumstances because of what we call an ‘affair’ involving their partner. Many of us will know the incalculable, pain and suffering this causes within a family – to say nothing of the psychological damage caused to children who find themselves as the victims of such circumstances.
It is no accident then that God, rejected by those he has loved and with whom he has shared his life at an intimate level – uses the picture of a wife who has rejected her husband to describe the pain of his heart when we desert him. If we ever doubted that the God of all things can feel pain, loss and distress we only need to look at his response to rejection as we find it recorded in the pages of the Bible.
In a stunning, costly and living illustration of this God instructed the prophet Hosea –
‘Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods.’
There then follows the outpouring of anger, pain and sorrow of a devoted and jealous husband – devastated, not only by his wife’s unfaithfulness but also her open rebellion and prostitution. And yet after this initial outburst from a broken heart, incredibly he goes on to say this –
‘But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
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.’
What kind of God is this!!
So here then we are presented with God, as a husband, who is grieved and broken by the unfaithfulness of his wife and, in our last post, of God who, as a father, is devastated by the rejection of his son. But, in both cases, his heart is ever open to both give and receive love, to forgive, restore and cast in to the sea of his forgetfulness any memory of our unfaithfulness and rebellion (Micah 7:19). We need to hold on to that today!
But to come back to the issue of God as a spurned husband. I think we need to ask a very important and relevant question here and it’s this – what exactly does ‘unfaithfulness’ look like from God’s perspective?
As we saw last time, it is a fundamental failure to reciprocate his love – a failure to maintain intimacy with him. But it’s more than that – because unfaithfulness at any level results in, or perhaps, most of the time, is a result of, an attraction and then devotion to things other than God. As a result of giving in to such attractions and becoming unfaithful, all restraint is, ultimately, thrown aside. Subsequently, in our story, the people who have abandoned their loving, gracious and patient husband God become arrogant, unkind, untrustworthy, unreliable, violent and lawless. Over time, as this cancer spreads, society itself begins to break down (See Hosea 4). No wonder God cries out – ‘What sorrow awaits those who have deserted me!’ (Hosea 7). This is, I believe, a very clear illustration of the law of cause and effect at a moral/spiritual level – just as sure as jumping off a cliff will cause serious injury or death on a physical/material level. But the contemplation of their sorrow and the results of their unfaithfulness also breaks his Husband heart – ‘My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows.’ (Hosea 11).
I find all of this very relevant to our own situation today. I have moved in church circles long enough to see the devastating results of some of the things we have noted above – and its wider effect in our society. It’s very instructive, if not frightening, to see that God lays much of the blame for the situation in Hosea’s generation at the foot of the religious leadership in the community. ‘Don’t point your finger at someone else and try to pass the blame! My complaint, you priests, is with you.’ (Hosea 3). You can’t get much more direct than that! One of the things I have personally seen in church leadership over the years is the willingness to choose expediency over integrity. It may have seemed at the time like a good idea, the best compromise, – but such ‘unfaithfulness’ will, be assured, have consequences. I think we miss that when we vote for the ‘compromise’ or ignore righteousness and justice in the courts and leadership meetings of the church. Hosea puts it graphically – ‘They have planted the wind and will harvest the whirlwind.’ (Hosea 8). I suspect we are ‘reaping’ and will go on to reap the results of our unfaithfulness in the church today.
We have gone through some dark days recently – and perhaps will go through darker yet – but please do not despair! God’s final words are never darkness or destruction – but light and restoration! You may feel like you are in the wilderness today, I know many of us do – but remember it is in the wilderness he will ‘speak tenderly’ to us – showing us ‘righteousness and justice’ and his ‘unfailing love and compassion.’ Ultimately, the question for us is, once again, will we open our hearts to his restoring, forgiving, gracious love?
‘Let those who are wise understand these things.
Let those with discernment listen carefully.
The paths of the Lord are true and right,
and righteous people live by walking in them.’