As I drove my family around one morning running errands, my 3-year-old son sang this delightful song: “I love my baby brother. I love my mommy. I don’t love daddy. I don’t love my daddy at all …!” Before I started working, I had been his primary caregiver since he was born, so we are especially close. I know that he loves me. I couldn’t help but laugh at the contrast between his angelic little voice and what would have been cutting words if I thought he meant them.
I knew he was just trying to get a rise out of me, but somewhere deep in the recesses of my heart, his words did hurt a little. Those words were fresh in my ears a couple hours later when I read this week’s Scriptures. The passages all come from God’s perspective of not being loved and obeyed by God’s human children. They all go on to describe how God wishes we would behave instead.
Hosea uses intensely heartbreaking language to describe the relationship between God and God’s people. God describes loving Israel and calling them out of Egypt like one calls a son (11:1). God taught Ephraim how to walk and scooped Israel up in God’s arms (11:3). God is described as one who picks up infants to nuzzle them cheek to cheek. Moreover, the almighty creator of the universes stoops down to feed a little one (11:4). God uses loving parental language to describe the bringing up of God’s people. But the people rebelled against their loving parent. The more God called out to them, the more they ran away and sought other gods (11:2, 7). So God gave them over to oppression by foreign powers.
But even in the midst of disciplining Israel, God poignantly asks:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, O Israel? …
My heart recoils within me;
my compassion grows warm and tender (11:8).
God is the perfect patient parent. Wrongdoing is punished so the child can learn and grow in the right ways. But that discipline hurts God’s heart. I translate the Hebrew for the end of the verse 8 as: “My heart has turned against me, and all my compassion grows warm.” When I discipline my sons, how often does my heart turn against my scolding, and all my different emotions turn into an intense desire to comfort my crying boy? Every. Single. Time. I have so much empathy for God in this passage.
Hosea uses intensely heartbreaking language to describe the relationship between God and God’s people. … God is described as one who picks up infants to nuzzle them cheek to cheek. Moreover, the almighty creator of the universes stoops down to feed a little one (11:4).
The psalms also testify that God’s love is ever-present, even when we walk through the dry and desert places looking for comfort (Psalm 107:4-6). This psalm’s first verse ends with two words לְעֹולָם חַסְדֹּֽו. I like to translate this phrase as “until eternity is [God’s] lovingkindness.” God’s love for us just doesn’t quit.
But if God’s love for us knows no end, does that mean we should sing my son’s song about how we don’t love our [heavenly] parent and expect that all will go well? No. Just as I want to raise my son to speak kindness and ask for attention in healthy, loving ways, so God desires that we will grow up to love God and our neighbors. Colossians 3:5-9 counsels that we are to give up immature, childish things like greed, slander, filthy language, commitment-less sex, lying and malice. We don’t judge those outside the faith. But we aren’t to be foolish, wayward children when we persist in these foolish things after having been freed from them, through having been hidden away from them in Christ (Colossians 3:3-4).
Lastly, Jesus gives another example of God’s parenting expectation. God desires that when we are blessed with abundance far beyond our needs and our capacity to use, we will share that blessing with others. Jesus describes a man who had a harvest so bountiful that it was much more than all his barns and storehouses could contain (Luke 12:16-20). Instead of sharing his overflowing bounty with others, he made a plan to pull down his barns (plural) and make new ones to store all he had. Instead of using his material security to enable him to farm for others or help his neighbors, the man planned to do nothing for the next several years but consume his stockpile. Jesus says God calls this kind of greed and disregard for others foolish.
God is a loving and long-suffering parent. God is much more faithful and kind than I am. Even though I know my son loves me, it hurts my heart when he sings that he doesn’t. When I perform actions or think thoughts that are detrimental to me and my neighbor—and hurtful to God, God doesn’t end our relationship. On the contrary, God tries harder and harder to call God’s people back to wise and righteous living. God will take care of our sin problem and, indeed, already has through Jesus. But we are called to live as children who are being brought up by our heavenly parent and commanded and empowered by the Spirit to live righteously.