"A Father's Love"




Hosea 11:1-4

When Israel was a child, I loved him,

and out of Egypt I called my son.

The more I called them,

the more they went from me;

they kept sacrificing to the Baals,

and offering incense to idols.

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,

I took them up in my arms;

but they did not know that I healed them.

I led them with cords of human kindness,

with bands of love.

I was to them like those

who lift infants to their cheeks.


George Bernard Shaw once said “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” For example, when Americans say "bonnet," they mean a cloth hat usually worn by a woman. When the English say "bonnet" they mean the hood of a car. Another strange British expression is “bite your arm off.” It means “very excited.” The Brit might say, “She would bite your arm off for an ice cream on a hot August day in South Carolina.” That is, a Brit would say that if she was in South Carolina in August. I don’t know why she would be.

If you are a parent, talking to you kids is sometimes just as strange as talking to a person from a foreign country. For example, if you are eating and the kid says, "I don't have room to finish my hamburger." He means he is full, he cannot eat any more. But if you are eating broccoli and the kid says, “I don't have room to finish my broccoli." He means, like President Bush Senior, that he does not like broccoli and he has eaten enough to satisfy you, and still get dessert. But if he says, "I don't have room to finish my dessert." Every parent knows the meaning of that. The child is sick and should be taken to the doctor immediately.

Take another example, when a child says, "I did not do it," she does not necessarily mean that she did not actually do it. She means that you cannot conclusively prove that she did it.

And kids try to play their parents off against each other. For example, they will go to the father and say "Mom said it was OK if you say it is OK"—which makes the father into the bad guy if he says, “No.” Actually they probably have not even asked mom. They are going to say the same thing to her later, “Dad said it was OK,” implying, “Do you want to be the bad one?”

We can go on and on with this sort of thing, all parents can testify that their children speak a different language and that is one of the reasons why it is hard to raise children. I have often thought that there should be a parent school, which wanna-be fathers and mothers have to complete before they are allowed to have children. Unfortunately, no such school exists, and we are all thrown willy-nilly into parenthood, and we have to do the best we can, and sometimes we wonder how we are doing.

It is written in Proverbs 22:6

Train children in the right way,

And when old, they will not stray.”

That is a wonderful promise, but how do you “train children in the right way?” That is the hard part.

I remember a little informal study I did with my brother-in-law of one group of kids that came up on the mill hill in Easley, SC. This was not a scientific statistical study. The group was too small for that. My brother in law, Sam Martin, knew each of these kids when he was growing up, and we looked at what happened to them 25 years later.

All of their parents were what we called “lintheads,” textile mill workers. Their parents did not have much education. I doubt that any of them finished high school. They were hard working people—worked Monday through Friday in the mill, Saturday they washed cars, cut grass, and bought groceries, Sunday they went to church. Their kids, 25 years later, mostly turned out to be decent, hard working folks just like their parents. Of course, there were differences. The kids all had more education than their parents, the kids had more divorces that their parents, and almost none of the kids worked in textiles—because , as you know the Southern textile industry went south, literally. But I remember asking Sam, what did these parents have, what was their secret, that generally speaking they were able to raise good kids? Sam replied something like this: Even though they all worked in the same mill, each family was different, and some of the kids he liked—when he was a kid-- and some he did not, but as far as the secret of parenthood was concerned, the only thing he could think of was that they all loved their kids in such a way that they wanted something better for their kids. They loved their kids unconditionally and they would always act for the benefit of their children, but they would also demand that their children act for their own benefit.

Parental love is a tough thing. That is why it is so hard to get right. It is like a one-way street, and it is like a two-way street. Let me explain what I mean by that. Parental love is unconditional. No matter what that child does, the parent is going to love that child. This is the one-way street. The parent loves even if there is no love in return. Some children are incapable of love. They are just born without that gene. Their parents still love them.

A few weeks ago, in our Wednesday Bible Study, the question came up, “Who was the most evil person in the 20th century?” The group decided pretty much unanimously that it was Adolph Hitler. Did you ever stop to think that Hitler had parents who loved him, probably loved him to the end?

Now ultimately God is our parent. God is our creator, and God is father and mother in that he watches over us, guides and protects us, disciplines and educates us. God loves us unconditionally. It is not too much to say that God is crazy about us. Imagine that we could have a psychologist analyze God. The shrink says, “All right, mister God, lay down on the couch here and tell me what you really feel.” That is too weird to think about I guess, but if such a thing could happen, the psychologist might conclude that God is so obsessed with us as to be mentally unbalanced. God compulsively reaches out to us, over and over. No matter how badly we treat God, God is always there for us. Since God took the risk of creating the universe, and creating humankind in his own image, God has compulsively stuck with us. Despite the fact that people almost immediately disobeyed God, God has steadfastly refused to write us off.

Any parent knows that there are "those days" when our children are everything and anything but lovable. Somehow we get through the day and heave an enormous sigh of relief when the little monsters are finally in bed. Yet we go up to their room later and look down at their quiet, sleeping forms, our hearts are stirred with love. These are the same kids we yelled at, grounded, argued with and even swore at, but under the power of parental love, we reject the thought of our children suffering any hardship or pain.

God is such a parent. God's obsession with humankind led him to constantly muddle in human affairs, to involve divinity in history, to mix with the rabble of the earth and the rubble of our disobedience. Psychologists would call this “compulsive interference." The Bible calls it love. Ever since God took that first risky step and created Adam and Eve, God has loved all the descendants of that family.

God is so obsessed with the children of creation that God simply will not leave us to our own poor devices. Thus, God made the covenant with Abraham. God was so obsessed with teaching us that God revealed the Commandments and the Law. God was so obsessed with guiding us that God called prophets to speak the divine word. God was so obsessed with us that God cheated. God cheated death and cheated judgment. God "gave his only begotten Son that we should not perish but have everlasting life."

The agnostic looks at the universe and asks, “Who turned on the lights?” The believer looks at the universe, and has an answer. God turned on the lights, but we have a question of our own. “Why?” Why did God create? We have an answer for that also—because God loves the universe. Make the question intensely personal. Why did God create me? Because God loves me.

God made us with love, and God's obsessive love assigns us value. Madeleine L'Engle portrays this with compelling urgency in her science-fiction fantasy A Wind in the Door. A battle for the soul of the cosmos is raging in the microscopic cells of a little boy. The forces of darkness are trying to "X" him, and all goodness, "out"—dragging them into the Nothingness. The boy can win this battle only if his true identity is named by others and his life is filled with Being. In the story, his sister calls out, "I hold you! I love you, I name you. You are not nothing. You are. I Name you Charles. I fill you with Naming. Be!" [Madeleine L'Engle, A Wind in the Door (New York: Dell, 1973), 203.] Even so, God says to us, you are not nothing, because I name you and I love you.

Hosea 11:1 reads: “When Israel was a child, I loved him.” These words mark Hosea as the "love prophet" and chapter 11 is a "love chapter." In the New Testament, I Corinthians 13 is called the “love chapter.” In that chapter, the Apostle Paul describes various aspects of love. “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” This is certainly what parental love is supposed to be. God's parental love is like that.

And that is what Hosea is writing about. Earlier in the book of Hosea, God pronounced judgment upon the people for their idol-worship and infidelity. God raged at his children and grounded them, but then, in chapter 11, the parental anger melts into a pool of parental love. God’s judging fist unclenches to open out toward the beloved children with the imploring love of a rejected parent.

To Hosea, God is not out there somewhere. God is right here with us. We live in the house of God, and this house overflows with love, attention, protection, and high parental expectations. Unfortunately, we often do not live up to God’s expectations. Israel did not either. The most moving thing about chapter 11 is this image of God as the eternally loving parent and Israel as the headstrong, rebellious child.

God says, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” This is clearly a reference to the Exodus. God says, I created Israel, I established this relationship. It might be supposed then that the Israelites would be devoted to God; however, from the beginning, Israel was a willful, wayward child. In verse 2, we read, “The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.” God called Israel through his prophets, but they turned toward the local gods of the Canaanites, the ba'als. We might think that this blatant disobedience would ignite a divine rage, but God’s love is not founded upon our obedience. After all, no earthly parent gives up on a child because of disobedience, nor will God ever give up on us.

In v3, God says, "it was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk.” We have the image of a parent with arms outstretched to protect a toddler taking his first steps. The toddler takes the step on his own, but the parent’s hands hover just inches away, ready to grab the child if he should stumble. If the child falls, the parent catches him and sets him on his feet again saying, “That is all right. You can do it. Just try again.” If the child succeeds, the parent is ecstatic. “Yes! You did it! Yes!” Even so, God rejoices in our victories, and takes us his arms and consoles us in our defeats.

When we picture a parent, we picture a man or woman doing a multitude of things with the child, holding a sleeping baby close, building sandcastles on the beach, reading a story—those are just samples. In Hosea 11:4, we have samples of what our God parent does. God says, “I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

That is the one-way street of parental love as best exemplifed in the greatest parent of all, in God. But parental love is more than that. It is also a two-way street. The parent must demand that children act for their own benefit. Throughout the Bible, God constantly demanded that his people act in certain ways. God gave them the Law and told them to keep the law. They did not do it. And God did not accept their disobedience, but neither did God reject them totally. That is parental love. It does not reject, but it does push the child. It does make demands and set conditions. Every parent knows this. We demand that our children meet certain standards—at school, at home, at church, for their own good.

Our relationship with God is like that. God tells us to live in a certain way and we will be better off for it.



If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 02/02/13