Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
I came across a quote recently from St. Gregory I where he said this –
Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.
The more I go on the more I realise the truth of this statement. In my experience, experience does not lead inexorably to knowledge but rather to unknowing and a sense of the mystery of it all.
The verse I have quoted is a case in point. It has a historical setting, a prophetic setting (seen by many as a reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus) and, underlying both, the mystery of deeper questions. Among these are of course questions regarding the mystery and meaning of suffering, questions as to the why of it all. Has all tearing (suffering) a reason and purpose – or is there randomness in much of it which, if it has any reason, we might never understand. And what place, influence or involvement has God in our suffering? How often have I heard the question – ‘What have I done to deserve this?’ or ‘Why is God punishing me like this?’
Whatever we might think, and I certainly have no definitive answer to these questions, I do believe, for it is clear to me from scripture, that God suffers with us and – ‘The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart ..’ (Psalm 34:18). And it was with the heart of God the Apostle Paul was able to say – ‘Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?’ (2 Corinthians 11:29). Nevertheless there is, it is true, a tearing of our being that is the result of our rebellion against the Divine principle. To me, this, in the spiritual realm, is the equivalent of natural law. If I kick a stone with my bare foot the results are going to be very obvious and painful – so too, unrealised by most, is that kicking against God’s will, love and purpose have a negative effect. In fact, this is exactly what Jesus said to Paul before his conversion – ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? When you kick against the cattle prods, you’re only hurting yourself.’ (Acts 26:14 TV) Again, please note also, that the risen glorified Jesus feels the persecution of his people – if I am persecuted so is he – if I am denounced, vilified and broken – so is he!
But there is a much deeper question this verse from the Prophet Hosea raises for me – and that is a question regarding what kind of justice lies at the heart of Divinity. If it is true that God is love and his relationship with humanity is rooted in love – then any expression of justice/judgement also flows from his love. Consequently, all of his actions must be restoritive, not punitive. This is very clear here – ‘He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up.’ That the whole book in question is rooted in the story of an unfaithful wife tells us everything! All the troubles and pain she goes through in her unfaithfulness and prostitution has restoration in view!
But this is not just a personal story it is also a national one. It reveals the roots of national decline and decay. God’s cry is –
Plant a crop of righteousness for yourselves,
harvest the fruit of unfailing love,
And break up your hard soil,
because it’s time to seek the Eternal
until He comes and waters your fields with justice.
You’ve ploughed wickedness and reaped injustice;
you’ve eaten the fruit of deception.
Because you’ve trusted in your own might,
in the size and skill of your army ..
The eternal truth is, personally and nationally – if we plant and nurture rebellion against Love in our wickedness and deception we will reap the consequences. I would suggest we are living in that moment in the West today. And yet, and yet, as with the individual so with the nation – God’s dealings and the natural consequences of the abandonment of Love are, ultimately, restorative in nature and purpose! There is always hope!
Of course, this truth has much deeper ramifications for what we believe about God, the Bible, ultimate judgement and the eternal day. Will God’s heart for restoration finally be realised for all people and nations? I for one certainly believe so!
I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death.