The Theology of Hosea

In many ways M. Night Shyamalan is a modern-day O. Henry—only with movies rather than short stories. The popularity of both is found in the dramatic surprise arising at the end; a twist that upsets the presuppositions built throughout the narrative. In his movie The Village, Shyamalan tells the story of an 18th century pioneer community enclosed by a wood in which creatures live who will kill any who dare traverse the boundary. The shock of story, hidden until the closing moments, is that this village actually exists in the 20th century in the midst of a wilderness preserve; and the creatures are merely costumes worn by the elders to keep villagers from venturing beyond. The community was founded by a group of social workers whose efforts to love and heal had resulted in hurt, anguish, and pain. As a result, they decided to avoid any further heartache by withdrawing from the world and the people they initially sought to love and help recover life and hope. At one point a villager waxes eloquent, proclaiming that “the world moves for love, it stands before it in awe;”[1] and in many ways, the book of Hosea reveals the validity of this proclamation. Only in this story, Love does not withdraw because of heartache, but continues to move, pursue and transform people in spite of it. Through the prophet Hosea, YHWH reveals the wonder of his redemptive grace—moving the world for love, by love, in love; causing all with eyes to see and ears to hear to stand before it in awe.

The Scandalous Behavior of God

The book of the prophet Hosea is scandalous from the outset. YHWH calls a man named Hosea, son of Beeri, to do something shocking: find a whore and marry her; make this whore the mother of your children.[2] Uncomfortable? Offensive? After all, what would his friends and family think? What is more shocking, Hosea does it. Scandalous. Why would God command such a thing? Certainly the God of the Bible would never tell a prophet, one set apart to proclaim “thus says the lord,” to do this, would he? Surely Hosea must have heard him wrong. After all, prostitutes and the like are “other,” those to be judged as unclean, people to be avoided and shunned as outcasts, right? What would this do to his credibility? Who would listen to the prophet married to a whore anyway? Yet the statement remains—bold and defiant of any wishing to soften its proclamation. Find a whore and marry her. Hosea did it.[3] Apparently God has a different view of “those kinds of people.” Maybe they are not so different from the rest of us after all. Maybe they are not “other” any more than you and I.

The persistent reader, refusing to shut the book never to return, finds that the real shock and scandal is for another reason altogether. God commands Hosea to marry a whore because God is married to a whore. What!? Never! Yet this is precisely what the Bible says. This whole country [Israel and Judah—the descendents of Abraham, the people of God] has become a whorehouse, unfaithful to me, YHWH.[4] Therein lies the scandal. Not primarily the command that a prophet love and marry a whore, but that YHWH himself loves and is married to a whore. We usually find such matters to be stones of stumbling and rocks of offense; but such is and always will be the good news of God’s redemptive grace.[5] In one testament we find a prophet called to marry a whore. In another YHWH is born in a feeding trough and crucified on a cross. Shocking? Unbelievable? Maybe. Yet it is true.

Thus, we are left with some troubling and difficult questions. Who is this God with whom we have to do? Why such shock and offense at the story of Hosea? Why do we blush when we read this book, wishing it were not in our canon? Have we been enslaved by our myopic notions of what is proper and fitting for God?[6] Are we making an effort to be holier and more righteous than YHWH? In short, have we formed God in our own image? And, if so, are we willing to have our presuppositions shaken by the surprise of the God whose grace and love compels him to love and pursue whores—even you, even me?

Orthodoxy: Traditional or Non-?

Traditional orthodoxy, in many ways I believe, has led to an avoidance of certain texts found throughout the Old Testament by a large majority of Christians. Hosea is no exception. A God unable to be affected and changed by humanity does not sit well beside a God whose relationship to Israel is comparable to a prophet’s relationship with his unfaithful wife.[7] The divine attributes of God espoused by traditional theism often find troublesome and problematic some statements found, ironically, in the Bible. Omnipotent, omniscient, immutable, impassible, timeless, all-determining—such is the God of some traditional theists for good or for ill.[8] Yet a question persists: is this the God revealed in the Bible? If so, what are we to do with books such as Hosea? Can they be reconciled to the attributes of God (as traditionally defined) without imposing ideas onto the biblical texts never intended by the author or understood by the initial audience? If they cannot, which will we cling to in our effort to understand the God with whom we have to do?

In The Openness of God, John Sanders argues that the early church fathers—and, by extension, much of traditional theism—were strongly influenced (maybe even held captive) by Greco-Roman philosophical notions of what is proper and fitting for God.[9] For any interested in a more detailed discussion, Sanders’ chapter is an excellent starting point; however, as the focus of this paper is specifically what the book of Hosea reveals about God we will not go into great detail regarding Sanders’ arguments.[10] As such, what is important to understand is the evident influence of Platonic thinking on traditional theism. In brief, Plato’s metaphysics as applied to God (and “the Good,” in his thought) are as follows. “The Good is completely self-sufficient whereas everything else depends on it. Nevertheless, even though God is in some sense dependent on the Good, God is ‘in every way perfect’ […] Because he is perfect, change is impossible since ‘if he change at all he can only change for the worse.’”[11] This idea is foundational to Platonism, and it greatly influenced the early church fathers who sought to make Christianity intelligible to a world in which Plato’s ideas reigned supreme. While the intention was noble, and many philosophical ideas may have been rightly appropriated, one cannot ignore the fact that traditional theism at times seems far removed from the biblical witness. As such, an attempt to read the Bible through the lens of Greek metaphysics will only lead to frustration or exegetical acrobatics as one is forced to explain away anything resembling a God responsive to and affected by the actions of humanity. As Sander’s put it: “The God of Greek thought is anonymous, self-sufficient, alone (unrelated), invulnerable, self-thinking thought, changeless and egocentric. The triune God of the Bible is ‘named,’ […] is God for others, makes himself vulnerable and is self-giving love.”[12] As such, we would be wise to let the revelation of God through the Bible form and inform our view of what is “proper” for God, lest we too remain captive to philosophical presuppositions not espoused by the biblical witnesses.[13] A look at the theology of Hosea should aid in this endeavor—for there we find a God whose relationship with Israel is one of husband and lover who remains faithful in spite of his partner’s adultery. In brief, the traditional definitions of impassibility and immutability simply refuse to be upheld by the book of Hosea.

Before we turn to the testimony of Hosea, however, let us discuss briefly the matter of change as it pertains to God. As we saw, Plato—and then much of traditional orthodoxy—affirmed that for God to change it would either mean he became greater or lesser. Since, as Anselm put it, God is the being greater than which none can be conceived, any change in God would have to be to something lesser.[14] This argument is said to be a sufficient defense of the classical understandings of God’s immutability and impassibility. William Hasker, however, uses the illustration of a clock to expose the logical fallacy in the above argument.[15] A clock, when functioning properly, is in a state of constant change. Because change is consistent with its purpose, it is not change for better or for worse, but simply change that allows it to perfectly fulfill its function. Thus, it is possible for something to change and remain perfect; and, as with a clock, sometimes change is necessary to remain perfect. This, Hasker asserts, reveals that God can (and does) change from perfection to perfection, and not for the worse or the better. Thus, since God has willingly chosen to live in relationship with that which he created, changes in relationship to creation are essential to his character and purposes.[16]

Thus, is it possible that the very existence of creation affirms Hasker’s analogy and refutes Plato’s ideas co-opted by traditional theism? For one can only wonder how it can be argued that God never changes (in any way), yet he creates a world which did not exist beforehand. To create is to change—not in character, but in relationship. There was once no creation and the Trinity existed in everlasting fellowship and love. Then there was a point at which God created, and the Trinity then existed in everlasting fellowship and love with creation. God has changed by nature of creating—neither for good nor ill, but simply because God is God.

Perhaps an illustration would be insightful. A young couple marries and begins enjoying the fellowship and intimacy that comes with marriage. For the purposes of this discussion let us suppose this is an Edenic (pre-Fall) marriage, and thus there is no sin.[17] At some point they decide to have children, the wife becomes pregnant, and roughly nine months later they have their first child, a baby girl. Has the couple changed for the worse or the better? Not will the child bring them joy and happiness (maybe even bring the wife and husband closer together in many ways) but have the wife or husband ontologically changed as a result of having a child? Or have they remained who they are and simply brought another person into their loving relationship? It seems to me that the latter is correct. Thus, is this not remotely analogous to the biblical creation account in Genesis? God exists, period. Then God creates, and there is something other than God in existence for the very first time. Has God changed? Not in terms of his perfection, but he certainly has changed by the fact that he is now in relationship with creation, an entity outside and other than himself. As we said, change can be from perfection to perfection, and the biblical account of creation seems to affirm this. Thus, Plato’s ideas need not force Christian theologians to reject (by explaining away) the biblical witness of a God who interacts, suffers, grieves, responds, and even changes his mind.[18]

This brings us to the book of the prophet Hosea once again. As mentioned, this is a largely neglected text in the Christian canon precisely because it challenges long-held (mis?)conceptions set forth some traditional theists. For here we find a God who reveals himself as a jilted lover, the faithful partner in a marriage far from ideal. Yet its presence remains, and merely ignoring or excluding it from one’s personal canon does not change that fact. As such, we ought to embrace the whole biblical revelation regardless of whether or not it fits with our carefully constructed theological systems which define what the Bible can and cannot say and what God can or cannot do. After all, C.S. Lewis chose the figure of a lion to depict Christ for a reason—God is not safe, but he is good.[19] Thus, the aim of what follows is to discuss three theological assertions put forth by the prophet Hosea—namely, YHWH’s immutability; mutability; and responsive relationality. In order to do so, this writer (and, hopefully, the reader) must seek to set aside—however difficult it may be—the myriad preconceptions and presuppositions about what the Bible must say and mean (as well as what God must and must not do) so as to discover the God revealed there—not safe and predictable, but constantly and everlastingly good.[20]

YHWH’s Immutability

For I, the lord, do not change.”[21] “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”[22] These verses, among others, are often cited to bolster the claim that God is immutable and impassible.[23] While most orthodox believers affirm God’s immutability,[24] the biblical witness seems to affirm an immutable character and purpose rather than a blanket proclamation that God cannot change or respond in any way. Such is the picture of YHWH painted by the prophet Hosea—immutable in character and purpose, yet open and changeable in his relationship to his creation. The very fact that God compares his relationship with Israel to that of a husband married to a prostitute should be reason enough to question blanket immutability in one’s theology. For who can avoid being grieved and hurt when the object of one’s love remains unfaithful?[25]

In the opening chapter, YHWH calls Hosea to wed a whore, who is unfaithful to him despite his faithfulness. Hosea’s consistent fidelity is paralleled to that of YHWH; while Gomer’s consistent infidelity is paralleled to that of Israel. Despite Israel’s persistent idolatry, God perseveres in love, wooing Israel back to himself and promising that if she will only return he will wed her forever, offer compassion and redemption, and make a people out of them that were not a people (2.14, 21-23). Eugen Pentiuc notes: “God behaves as if he were a cheated husband yet still in love with his unfaithful wife,” whereby his love constrains him to persistent commitment despite infidelity.[26] It is clearly YHWH’s immutable character and purposes that leave room for the hope of redemption even in the midst of a coming judgment.

Furthermore, it is instructive to note the language used to describe how God will (re-)wed Israel if they but repent and return. “I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in loving-kindness and in compassion. And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the lord” (2.19-20, emphasis added). The writer uses an abundance of adjectives in this divine speech to reveal YHWH’s intentions, all of which describe his character that remains steadfast despite the fickleness of his bride. As Daniel Simundson noted, “God will not break the covenant and end the marriage, no matter how greatly provoked. The covenant is conditional in the sense that acts of faithlessness and disloyalty will bring on dire consequences. But it is unconditional with regard to durability…God is righteous and will do what is right and in the best interests of the partner.”[27] He is faithful to his promises and faithful to his covenant. He, indeed, is YHWH who changes not.

The question remains: can the God of traditional theism be the same God spoken of in Hosea? For the God revealed here is certainly affected by the sins of his people, as seen in his longing for Israel to return, to be faithful, and to respond to his wooing.[28] Can this God be declared as pure act with no capacity for genuine response and interaction?[29] Can this God be reconciled with any form of deterministic theism or any other theology espousing an impassible and wholly immutable deity? One wonders how to even begin.

YHWH’s mutability

“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”[30] Hosea’s wordplay is an integral part of his message; and it is through this element that we first find God’s mutability in relationship to creation expressed, as the prophet reveals the shifts that occur in the YHWH-Israel relationship. That YHWH and Israel are in covenant relationship is presupposed, and revealed by the fact that the Hosea-Gomer marriage parallels the YHWH-Israel marriage (Hos 1.2). Thus, having revealed the persistent idolatry of Israel, Hosea’s three children are given names that prophecy about God’s response, and serve to depict the changes in the covenant relationship.

His first born, a son, is named Jezreel, “for yet a little while, and [YHWH] will punish the house of Jehu for the bloodshed of Jezreel, and [he] will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hos 1.4). As Gary Smith explains, “this child was to remind Hosea’s audience of what had happened in the Valley of Jezreel, where king Jehu poured out the blood of innocent lives in order to solidify his political power (2 Kgs 9-10; esp. 9.25-26; 10.11).”[31] Here we see a shift from favor and blessing to judgment and punishment. God certainly has not changed in his faithful character, but his relationship to his people necessarily changes in response to their behavior. It is a response to anguish at Israel’s infidelity, a response to draw his partner back into covenant. As Walter Brueggemann noted, “judgment that is not understood as a form of unendurable hurt misses the point of the biblical drama.”[32]

Hosea’s second child, a daughter, bears the name Lo-Ruhamah, “for [YHWH] will no longer have compassion on the house of Israel…But [he] will have compassion on the house of Judah” (Hos 1.6a). “The daughter’s name suggests a parent who was once loving and compassionate [Ruhamah] but now has withdrawn support and affected [Lo-], no longer cares what happens to the child, and, in effect, has disowned the one who at one time was loved.”[33] Clearly a change in the YHWH-Israel relationship has taken place. They were once the favored people of God, yet they have persisted in idolatry so long—shunning his continuous wooing—that they are possibly beyond recovery. Thus, YHWH confirms them in their ways and in effect proclaims to them: “your will be done.”[34] Hope remains, however dimly, for Judah, however. Thus, the prophet clearly sees God’s relationship changing with Israel and Judah in response and in accordance with their particular actions and faithfulness (or lack thereof) to the covenant.

The name of the third child, another son, is just as foreboding—“name him Lo-Ammi, for you are not my people and I am not your God” (Hos 1.9). We have another clear shift in relationship, and one wonders how an immutable, impassible deity could undergo such a change? YHWH and Israel were in a covenant that requires fidelity on both sides. God has kept his end of the bargain; Israel has not. Thus, due to their persistent idolatry, YHWH responds by proclaiming that Israel is no longer his people and he is no longer their God. “This, too,” Simundson notes, “is a terrible name. It signifies no less than the end of the covenant between God and the people.”[35] A change has occurred for both covenant partners.

These are stark and shocking proclamations. Indeed, if the book ended here one might go into a state of depression, despair, or bewilderment. Thankfully, however, Hosea’s message continues, bringing us back to the immutable faithfulness of God—to the character and purposes of YHWH who, as another prophet declared, “changeth not” (Mal 3.6). Punishment is certainly coming, that is part of the holy and righteous character of God (cf. Hos 2.1-13). Nevertheless, love is soon revealed as the primary aspect of God’s character in a message of hope and promise for redemption if Israel will only repent. “Behold, I will allure her, bring her into the wilderness and speak kindly to her. Then I will give her her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope….I will betroth you to me forever…in righteousness and in justice, in loving-kindness and compassion…[and] in faithfulness. Then you will know the Lord” (Hos 2.14-15a, 19-20). God cannot wholly desert his people. It is impossible because love and faithfulness are essential to what it means to be YHWH. He is the unchangeably changeable deity, YHWH, who will go to any and all lengths—even a cross on a hill called Golgotha—to live in love and fellowship with those whom he brought into being.

YHWH’s Responsive Relationality

The book of the prophet Hosea is clearly difficult—textually as well as theologically.[36] The language is complex, filled with wordplays that are often obscured in even the best English translations. Yet, for the reader who persists, the theology of the book is richly rewarding, and offers much insight into the dialogue regarding human freedom and God’s sovereign actions in the world. Much more could be explicated from this text, yet, for our purposes, hopefully it has been demonstrated that YHWH reveals himself as immutable and mutable, as unchanging and changing. As Greg Boyd put it, “God’s mind [and, I would add, his essence or being] is unchanging in every way in which it is virtuous to be unchanging, but is open to change in every way in which it is virtuous to be open to change.”[37] And, as we saw, change is often a necessity for God to remain perfect and true to his character.

Thus, Hosea paints a picture of God that runs contrary to much of traditional theism’s piety—one who responds; who suffers, grieves, and mourns over his unfaithful spouse; who is even willing to shun all that many think “proper” for deity in order to be in relationship.[38] Impassible? Hardly.[39] Immutable? Certainly, but in his character as faithful lover even with those who shun and grieve him. What kind of God is this? What are we to do with such a scandal? With a God who feels emotions, is affected by others, can be rejected by the very beings he created?[40] In short, a God who moves for love, by love, in love? The book of Hosea leaves only two options open for us: “You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God.”[41] And so we are back to the question which began our inquiry: Have we formed God in our own image? And, if so, are we willing to have our presuppositions shaken by the surprise of the God whose grace and love compels him, no matter the cost, to love all and pursue all—even you, even me?

Works Cited

Boyd, Gregory A. The God of the Possible. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001.

_____. “The Open-Theism View.” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, James K.

Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, ed. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

_____. Repenting of Religion: Turning From Judgment to the Love of God. Grand Rapids:

Baker Books, 2004.

Brueggemann, Walter. Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation. Minneapolis:

Fortress Press, 1989.

Brunner, Emil. I Believe in the Living God: Sermons on the Apostles’ Creed. John Holden,

translator and editor. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961.

Buechner, Frederick. Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who. New York: Harper & Row,

1979.

Charnock, Stephen. The Existence and Attributes of God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005

reprint.

Fretheim, Terrence. The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective. Minneapolis:

Augsburg Fortress, 1984.

Hasker, William. “A Philosophical Perspective.” The Openness of God. Downer’s Grove:

InterVarsity Press, 1994.

Helm, Paul. “Divine Timeless Eternity.” God and Time: Four Views. Gregory E. Ganssle, ed.

Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2001.

Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York:

HarperCollins Publishers, 1978.

_____. The Great Divorce. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1946.

_____. Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

Moltmann, Jürgen. Theology of Hope. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.

_____. The Crucified God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993 reprint.

Olson, Roger. The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity.

Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Pentiuc, Eugen J. Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations.

Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2002.

Peterson, Eugene. The Message. Colorado Springs: NAV Press, 2003.

Philipps, J.B. Your God is Too Small. New York: Touchstone Book, 1952.

Pinnock, Clark. The Most Moved Mover. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Sanders, John. “Historical Considerations.” The Openness of God. Downer’s Grove:

InterVarsity Press, 1994.

_____. The God Who Risks, rev. ed. Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2007.

Shyamylan, M. Night. The Village. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamylan. 108 min.

Touchstone Pictures. 2004.

Simundson, Daniel J. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. Abingdon Old Testament

Commentaries. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Smith, Gary V. NIV Application Commentary: Hosea/Amos/Micah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan,

2001.


[1] M. Night Shyamylan, The Village, Written and directed by M. Night Shyamylan, (108 min., Touchstone Pictures), 2004.

[2] Eugene Peterson, The Message, (Colorado Springs: NAV Press, 2003), Hosea 1.2a.

[3] Peterson, The Message, Hosea 1.2b, 3a.

[4] Ibid., Hosea 1.2b.

[5] cf. Gen 3; Isa 8; Mt 11.3; 13.57; Mk 6.3; Lk 4.21ff; 7.18-23; 8.1-11; Rom 9; 1 Pet 2.

[6] Many “have set up in their minds what they think God ought or ought not to do, and when He apparently fails to toe their particular line they feel a sense of grievance…God will inevitably appear to disappoint the man who is attempting to use Him as a convenience, a prop, or a comfort, for his own plans,” J.B. Philipps, Your God is Too Small, (New York: Touchstone Book, 1952), 48-49.

[7] As Daniel J. Simundson noted: “Hosea reveals not only the actions of God but also the ‘feelings’ of God in a powerful way. God is capable of emotional responses to the behavior of human beings….It seems to give too much power to mere mortals if their attitudes and activities can have an effect on how God thinks and feels. Yet, God’s response to what humans do is central to the biblical story,” Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005), 8.

[8] Stephen Charnock’s The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2005 reprint) provides a lengthy treatment of the attributes of God found in much traditional theism.

[9] John Sanders, “Historical Considerations,” The Openness of God, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 59-100.

[10] See also, John Sanders, The God Who Risks, rev. ed., (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), 140-172.

[11] Sanders, The Openness of God, 63.

[12] Ibid., 100.

[13] It should be noted that in The God Who Risks Sanders does not intend to denigrate the efforts of the church fathers to make Christianity intelligible to their contemporaries. Indeed, he even argues that it is largely difference in language definitions that distinguish the fathers from his perspectives. While Sanders continues to struggle with their terminology, such as impassibility, he has come to see that the fathers affirmed a God who suffers, but one who is impassible in the sense that he is not “overcome by emotions as we are apt to do,” 141.

[14] Roger E. Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 82.

[15] William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” The Openness of God, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 132-133. It should be noted that Hasker affirms Anselm’s idea that God is the greatest being; however, he argues that this does not necessarily mean that change is impossibility for God.

[16] Within traditional theism, one is also left to wonder about the incarnation. How can God—impassible, timeless, immutable (not just in character), omnipotent, and omniscient—become flesh and dwell among us as the gospels proclaim? If these are attributes essential to God being God, could he truly be fully God and fully Man in Jesus the Christ? For in Christ, God is in time, weeps over Jerusalem, interacts with and responds to human beings, suffers and dies only to rise again for the redemption of creation. How is this comprehensible within much of traditional theism? Simply put, it is difficult to determine how it can be.

[17] One could actually use the biblical creation account to make the same argument. God created Adam and declared that he, like the rest of creation, was good. He then creates Eve and thus Adam has changed in so far as he is now in relationship with another human being for the very first time. Does this mean Adam changed for the better? Certainly God created him good and as he intended, so he could not have become better than God made him. Does he change for the worse? Putting aside all of the marriage jokes at this point, certainly God would not have created a help-meet for Adam that would make him change for the worse. Thus, Adam has changed but neither for good or ill. It is certainly good that he is no longer alone, but Adam is has not ontologically changed. He was created good and remained so until he chose to rebel against his creator.

[18] cf. William Hasker, “A Philosophical Perspective,” The Openness of God, (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 126-154; John Sanders, The God Who Risks; Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, (New York: Harper & Row, 1967); Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993, first published in 1974); Terrence Fretheim, The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1984); Clark Pinnock, The Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001); Greg Boyd, The God of the Possible, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2001) for further nuanced discussions on this matter.

[19] C.S Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1978).

[20] I am fully aware that an effort at reading any text tabula rasa —particularly the Bible—is an impossibility. Unless, of course, one has amnesia. Nevertheless, any effort to let the Bible speak for itself regarding what is “fitting” and “proper” for God will inevitably yield much fruit. After all, which of us—given the chance to compose the story of creation’s redemption—would have ever brought it about by having the Creator become creature (God-Man), die on a cross, and rise again three days later? Such is the wonder of God’s redemptive grace. Folly and outright stupidity from humanity’s perspective; wisdom and power from God’s perspective. As such, ought we not let God decide for himself what is “fitting” regarding his actions in the world?

[21] Malachi 3.6, nasb.

[22] Hebrews 1.10-12 (quoting Psalm 102.25-27), nrsv.

[23] Definitions vary as to what is meant by such terms, but Stephen Charnock presents a widely accepted understanding, explicating God’s holistic immutability based on Plato’s notions of change and perfection—“If God were changeable, he could not be the most perfect Being….All changeableness implies a corruptibility” (331, 333). He notes the biblical emphasis on God’s immutable character and purposes, but he also asserts an immutability of knowledge, will, and emotions. “All that we consider in God is unchangeable; for his essence and his properties are the same, and, therefore, what is necessarily belonging to the essence of God, belongs also to every perfection of the nature of God; none of them can receive any addition or diminution….There can be no pretence of any changeableness of knowledge in God; but in this case, before things come to pass, he knows that they will come to pass….The being of men makes no more change in God than the sins of men,” (The Existence & Attributes of God: Volume I, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996 reprint), 318, 323, 339.

[24] Some attempt to redefine impassibility in a manner that makes God seem either passable or wholly incomprehensible. For example, in his article in God and Time: Four Views, Paul Helm states that God is not “withdrawn and unfeeling” as opponents argue a timeless, impassible deity becomes. Rather, he argues, God only acts and thus “impassibility in God is not a defect but a perfection; it signals fullness, not deficiency.” Thus, Helm says God is not impassible in a negative, human sense (as withdrawn and uncaring), but he is impassible in a positive, divine sense. He seeks to uphold this tension by arguing that God cannot be passable as humans are, “for passions in us change us; they are affections” and an eternally timeless, unchangeable deity cannot change in this manner. Rather, he argues that God’s emotions and passions are unchanging. “They are fundamental states of mind, part of the divine fullness and glory, and of the engagement of that divine fullness with his creation….an ‘impassible,’ timelessly eternal God may have a fullness of character of which our fitful human emotions are but inadequate shadows,” (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2001), 39-40.

[25] As Emil Brunner put it so well: “He who is not capable of suffering is also not capable of loving. The one who is most fully of love is also the one who is most capable of suffering,” I Believe in the Living God: Sermons on the Apostles’ Creed, John Holden, translator and editor, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1961), 77.

[26] Eugen J. Pentiuc, Long-Suffering Love: A Commentary on Hosea with Patristic Annotations, (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2002), 40.

[27] Simundson, Hosea, 29. He continues: “God, like the model of a perfect husband, will be trustworthy, true to all promises and commitments, and totally reliable—virtues lacking in Israel’s idolatrous present…God has not changed…The God who loved Israel at the beginning continues to do so” (29-30).

[28] In three refrains (6.4; 11.8-12; 14.8) we find YHWH expressing a mixture of exasperated, yet longing, hoping, continuing love toward his people. “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah?” He cannot help but love them, for that is his character. He cannot help but seek redemption, for that is his purpose. Yet he is grieved and frustrated over their persistent idolatry. As Gary Smith notes, “Somewhat like frustrated parents who are at their wits end on how to raise a deviant son, God wonders what he can do to bring about real change in his people’s hearts. The internal struggle suggests that he loves Israel and Judah dearly and does not want to punish them. But when they do not respond appropriately, what can he do?” (NIV Application Commentary: Hosea/Amos/Micah, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 111. What sense would it make for God to express such frustration and bewilderment—this internal struggle with the possibility of letting his people go coupled with his persistent love and desire to be in covenant relationship with them—if he already knew what would happen? It seems difficult to reconcile such plaintive, longing questions within a traditional theistic perspective. One hears echoes of David’s lament over his son Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 18.33, and many traditional theists, it seems, feel the need to play Joab and tell God to act more appropriately given his position.

[29] cf. Maurice Wiles, “Divine Action: Some Moral Consideration” and James M. Gustafson, “Alternative Conceptions of God” who argue for this perspective in The God Who Acts: Philosophical and Theological Explorations, (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994).

[30] 1 Pet 2.9-10 (quoting Hos 2.23), nrsv.

[31] Smith, NIV Application Commentary, 47.

[32] Walter Brueggemann Finally Comes the Poet: Daring Speech for Proclamation, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 20. He continues: “The truth greatly reduced is that we are under judgment. The truth artistically disclosed is that the throne room of heaven is filled with alarm that the rule of life is mocked in the province where we live….Anger at the throne [of God] is compounded by God’s utter anguish at having hope and been betrayed, at having yearned and failed,” 20-21.

[33] Simundson, 18.

[34] This is a tragic confirmation to say the least. It would be one thing for God to be the all-determining reality who causes all things that occur. Thus, though difficult to reconcile with the biblical witness, one could embrace a deterministic vantage point, asserting that all of this is according to God’s will. However, given that God (through Hosea) proclaims that this is his response to Israel’s continue idolatry and unrepentant behavior, the judgment is even more tragic. As C.S. Lewis put it: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done,’” The Great Divorce, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1946), 75.

[35] Simundson, 18.

[36] “The Hebrew text of Hosea’s book is one of the more corrupt in the entire Old Testament, comparable only to that of Job,” Pentiuc, Long-Suffering Love, 10.

[37] Gregory A. Boyd, “The Open-Theism View,” Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, James K. Beilby and Paul R. Eddy, ed., (Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 41-42.

[38] In his book Repenting of Religion: Turning from Judgment to the Love of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), Greg Boyd makes the same point regarding the ministry of Christ: “Jesus reveals that God sacrifices himself for sinful humanity. By sacrificing himself for us, God ascribes unsurpassable worth to people who in and of themselves have little apparent worth. In doing this, God reveals his nature, which is eternal, unsurpassable love…Jesus completely abolishes all ordinary ideas and expectations people have of a Supreme Being….To know the crucified Christ is to know all we need to know about the Supreme Being, “34-35. And is this not revealed in the parable of the prodigal son whose father shuns social conventions—behavior and actions deemed “proper”—to run and embrace his son? (cf. Lk 15.11-32)

[39] Again, it depends upon one’s definition of impassibility. Sanders chapter in The God Who Risks is quite helpful in explicating what the early father meant—and the Bible seems to reveal—about God’s impassibility. It is not connoting a deity who cannot be affected by another, but one who does in fact grieve and mourn and wish and hope, but who is not overcome by such emotion that he acts in a manner that is, as we say, out of character. As Sanders summarized: “Though there is no single definition of impassibility in the fathers, generally speaking they meant only that God could not suffer physically since God was not embodied or that God could not be forced to suffer or that God is not overcome by emotions as we are apt to do,” 141.

[40] “If only God weren’t such a stickler for letting people make up their own minds without coercing them” Frederick Buechner quips. Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who, (New York: Harper & Row, 1979), 9.

[41] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: Macmillan, 1952), 56.

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