Hosea is a passionate love story. And, while it may not be factual, it is a story most know to be true. A steadfast lover, ardent in their pursuit of their beloved, is pained by acts of deceit and infidelity. The lover, ever determined to win back the beloved, fights for their return but is cast aside by their unfaithful partner.
As a seventeen-year-old girl reading this book I adored the story of Hosea and his wife. I saw myself in the promiscuous wife and found myself longing for a man, or a God, who would fight for my sinful and unworthy soul.
However, as I read this text today, as a thirty-three-year old woman who is fully embodied and aware of my worth, I am disgusted by the language Hosea used to talk about his wife. I can’t shake the fact that Hosea’s metaphor spawned the figure of a seductive woman who causes misery for men. I can’t ignore that the metaphor enforces a flawed idea of sexuality in which women fall into one of two categories, whores or Madonnas. And, I can’t deny that the church has perpetuated these teachings for years.
I really didn’t want to write this reflection.
Rather than offer clarity, the Bible commentary I read fueled my frustrations: “There is little doubt that the very negative use of female imagery in the Prophets has contributed to negative stereotypes of women, and even to physical abuse on occasion” (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible by John J. Collins).
There were some authors who sought to redeem the text by stripping it of its gender roles and interpreting it simply as lovers who struggled to be faithful to one another. However, as a woman who has experienced the impact of this metaphor, these attempts at redemption feel paltry at best.
I wondered, as I imagine some of you do, “Why do we continue to read texts that promote harmful ideas towards women?”
The best I can come up with is that we want to maintain our connection to the people of God who came before us. Despite their flaws, we want to connect with the eternal story of people seeking to understand God.
I imagine that we, just like the prophet Hosea, use words or terms for God that are also harmful. We, just like Hosea, create stories about how and why God acts that limit an understanding of God’s love. And we, like Hosea, are trying desperately to find a way to describe God.
So, while I won’t yet endorse this use of a metaphor, I can find some compassion for the author who was trying their best to articulate the ineffable love of God. I can see, through the frailty of human language, a God who is tender and generous with me. And, I can commit to speaking more cautiously, humbly, and slowly about God, lest I repeat the pattern of Hosea.
Pray: Keep me humble as I seek to know you fully.
Reflect: How do the metaphors or images of God you learned as a younger person impact your understanding of God today? What image might you use to describe the love of God?
Art: Hosea found on the blog of John Sandidopoulos
Books: In the hopes of understanding Hosea I’m going to read the following: