Friday, February 12, 2016

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Hosea (4)


The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

God’s Work in the Book of the Twelve – Hosea (4)

Lent 2

          Hosea has set up our reading of the Book of the Twelve in Lent so far by setting out two overriding themes pervading the Twelve and foundational for a faithful practice of Lent,

-the character of God as love - the One who is utterly faithful to himself and to the good of those to whom he has committed himself; and

-humanity’s self-chosen trail of tears known as I-dolatry – placing the I in the driver’s seat, displacing God and presumptively taking his place.

          Today the prophet gives us invaluable insight into the kind of process we enter if we “return” to YHWH (8x in Hosea) in repentance and hope. But this “return” is never a matter first, our action seeking to restore and renew our life with God. Instead, even the desire to return and renew life with God is a response to his seeking and searching for us. For unless God is seeking us, we would never be moved to seek him. C. S. Lewis has the great Lion Aslan tell Jill Pole in The Silver Chair that though she believed she and her companion Eustace Scrubb were seeking him, they would never have called out to him unless he had been calling out to them.

          We undertake our journey this Lent, then, not of our own accord or desire, but because the God who created and loves us never stops seeking and calling us to “return” to him. Lent as a time of repentance and renewal is God’s idea before it is ours!

          The reason this is important is due to the radical nature of the work to be done during Lent. This work is far more than giving up something for 40 days or taking on some new form of service or devotion. It is more than taking up regular Bible and devotional reading. It is more even than serving the poor and needy in obedience to Jesus’ command. Is not even someone we do. If Lent remains a set of our varied efforts at spiritual growth or self-improvement, or worse, to earn God’s approval and acceptance, then we’ve missed the point completely.

          “Their heart is false” (10:2). Now that’s where the problem lies. Now the “heart” in biblical thought is much more than the seat of the emotions we tend to consider it. It’s much more like NASA Command Center in Houston. For the heart is such a command center in scripture. Here the mind, emotions, and will interact generating the attitudes and actions that enable others to see the kind of people we are. The Lent we just mentioned that focuses on our own efforts at growth and improvement or solidifying our standing with God work on this level. And it always fails.

          You see, the problem Hosea sees among his people, their rampant I-dolatries, operate at a deeper level than this. This command center of the heart in biblical thought rests on basic dispositions or sets of the heart, often called “affections,” which determine its goals and direction. This is where that imperial “I” we considered yesterday is lodged. And it can’t be touched by our efforts at change, no matter how sincere and noble. Once in charge it is there to stay unless some greater power intervenes to dislodge it.

          God knows this too. Charles Wesley captures his beautifully in his wonderful hymn “And Can It Be”:

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.”

Wesley though, perhaps underestimates the difficulty of this work on God’s part. It’s a lot more than a quick liberating glance. Thus we find God in 13:8 claiming: “I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart.” A frightening and disheartening image if ever there was one!

          C. S. Lewis comes to our aid again providing our imaginations with a rich image to help us process this reality. It’s in a scene from his third Narnia story “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

Eustace Clarence Scrubb, a boy who Lewis tells us almost deserved that name, seems rotten to the core. A bratty know-it-all, belligerent, manipulative, lacking all respect and decency, Eustace has discovered a dragon’s cave stuffed with unimaginable riches. He falls sleep imagining the life and comforts he could now enjoy. He awakes, though, with significant pain in his arm. When he looks he forgets that pain in the horror of his realization that he has become outwardly what he was inwardly – a dragon!

A bracelet he slipped on his arm was cutting into his much larger dragon leg with great discomfort. And as a dragon he realized that he was alone, bereft of human companionship.

Dragon Eustace meets the great lion and Christ figure one lonely night in the mountains. He leads the dragon to a garden on top of the mountain. In the middle of the garden was a large well.

Eustace badly want into the water in that well to soothe his aching arm. The Lion tells him he has to undress first. Initially confused, Eustace remembers that he is a dragon and that dragons have skins like snakes which could be shed. Eustace begins clawing away his dragon skin. He peels off one layer, steps onto the rim of the well, and discovered to his chagrin another nasty, scaly, and rough layer underneath the first one. And then another. And another. And finally Eustace realizes it’s futile — he can never get rid of his dragon skin and get into that inviting well that way.

“You will have to let me undress you,” says Aslan the Lion.

Terribly frightened at that prospect, Eustace was even more desperate. His fear of Aslan’s sharp claws was not enough to stop him from laying down flat on his back. And waited.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. . . .

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off — just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt — and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me — I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . .

“After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me . . . in new clothes.”

There it is - the way of Israel’s “return” and the church’s practice of Lent! When I said earlier that Lent is God’s idea, I meant it. Our self-generated practice of Lent 

-is always way too small,

-never exposes the imperial I to the grace that intends its death, and

-wants God to make a difference in our life rather than giving us a new and different life.

What is the Lent you will practice this year?

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