by Patrick Lafferty
When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
We’re not sure who first uttered the scandalous comment. Some think it was the revered Church Father, St Augustine. The transparency found in his Confessions on subjects of the utmost intimacy render him a viable candidate for the comment’s source.
Others though tend to attribute the comment to Luther, the even less restrained theologian of the 16th century. His preference for the indelicate in making analogies between doctrines and bodily functions would seem to resonate with the ribald nature of this quip.
What allegedly shocking statement do I refer to?
“The Church is a whore, but she is my Mother.”
Since we’re not sure who said it, we can’t be sure of the precise context in which it was spoken. We can only speculate as to possible nuances of its meaning. Whatever Augustine or Luther (or whoever let this sentence fly) intended, we can reasonably deduce the juxtaposition of unqualified honesty and affection. For all that we might be embarrassed by in the church, if we are in Christ, we can never think ourselves as distinct from her. We owe our existence and our destiny to her in the sense that she bestows to all who are part of her the many gifts with which Christ showered her—in dying for her and in giving her His Holy Spirit. Though the church has often misused those gifts—and that’s putting it as mildly as possible—to repudiate her would be like denying something fundamental in yourself. Scandalized by the comment or not, we can all resonate with its claim.
But that sentiment far predates Luther or Augustine. Long before there were clerics, a prophet declared God’s people to be nothing short of a prostitute. As we heard Sunday from Pastor Mark, God Himself called Hosea to marry a prostitute to act as a scandalous object-lesson about Israel’s true posture toward her God.
The people chosen by God to be ambassadors of His name had returned the favor by choosing just about any alternative to His authority they laid eyes on. But their apostasy wasn’t so tame that it should be likened to a shopper selecting a variety of goods. God compared their disobedience to a prostitute because they had, as it were, sold themselves out and opened themselves up to anyone who would offer them affection. Israel submitted to the whims of her various loves and thereby compromised her dignity for what she thought would give her stability.
That the people of God—Israel, the Church (cf. Gal 6:16)—has been referred to as a whore may shock some, while others snicker. But once we get past being startled by the thought what does it intend to confront in us? Here’s three ideas.
Though we in Christ have been loved with an everlasting love (Ps 103:17; Jer 31:3), we are far too promiscuous with our affections. God has called us to be indiscriminate in giving love, but far more selective in where we find our love, and how. There are many destructive things we might take refuge in—things which on the surface seem beneficial but in time prove corrosive. But there are far more wholesome things that we can unwittingly submit too much to, compromise too much for. Careers, children, achievements, aspirations—we may rightly rejoice in them all but we shall rue the day when we find ourselves so enmeshed in what they provide that at their loss we fall into despair. We who compose the church can be like whores in how we submit to what cannot ultimately satisfy.
We fall into that trap because we can be far too unimpressed with the jealous love of our Lord. The only thing that can explain the people of God acting like prostitutes is their wholesale rejection of His steadfast love. And the rejection boils down to a failure to remember how that love had manifested in the past—particularly during times when Israel deserved anything but His love. Eventually humbled by their sin, Israel couldn’t fathom God ever receiving them back—a thought we most certainly can identify with. The idea of someone loving us amid our rebellion sounds so unnatural that we think that such love coming from God to us is impossible. Yet, that is precisely what He has shown, time after time—none more poignant than at Calvary. Has the habitualness of your sin led you to think His love has been exhausted? If so, you’ve lost sight of the depth of love from a God who was willing to unite Himself to a whoring people (cf. Rom 5:8).
Finally, these scandalous words call us to consider how we are far too inclined to disparage the haplessly promiscuous people for whom God poured out His jealous love. Acrimonious criticism is a cottage industry in the modern world. Schadenfreude, the enjoyment we might derive from another’s misfortune, is just as prevalent—and, to be sure, just as ungodly in how it represents the obverse of envy (cf. 1 Pet 2:1). Most criticism of the church from without the church is understandable because it’s offered not to edify, but to defame. But how much criticism from within her is offered more to prove oneself right than provide constructive evaluation? Not only does backbiting of a brother diminish the church, it employs sanctimony that masks a condition genuinely in need of forthright, but loving, correction. As many have said, if we spoke of our spouses like we often speak of the church, would not our words condemn us?
Neither Hosea nor whoever uttered the introductory quote had shock as their ultimate purpose. Instead they sought to appall for the sake of eliciting repentance. Which of these issues raised by disturbing, but true, words must you repent of?