I suppose that there are some scriptures in the Bible that I can relate to in different ways than others. Today, as I was listening to a sermon that was wrestling with the way that God had blinded humanity while also having a deep love and desire for all men to be saved, I thought of the passionate but largely unsuccessful wooing of Israel that is revealed in scripture. As someone who tends to woo challenging sort of young women, and someone whose chronicles of courtship has thus far not been particularly successful, I can definitely relate to the frustration that is expressed by God in many parts of the Bible as he woos Israel over the pages of scripture through songs and the messages of prophets, only to be rejected over and over again.
Some of that wooing took place as early as the Law. When Israel was being brought out of Egypt, they came to Mount Sinai and were asked if they would enter into a covenant marriage as a people with God. Israel said that they would do whatever God said but they proved themselves to be rather disloyal to God in the wilderness, nagging God all the time about food and water, showing a distinct lack of faith despite repeated miracles as well as the rather ordinary miracles of God’s provision of manna in the wilderness. What should have been a trip of about a couple of years ended up taking 40 miserable years of trudging. At the end of that, as Israel’s second generation of adults was seeking to enter the Promised Land, God said the following thing to Moses about them in Deuteronomy 5:29: “Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever!”
It is a difficult matter to wonder what kind of heart is in others. If we are reflective people, we will spend a great deal of time and effort seeking to understand and improve the state of our own hearts. We will seek to ferret out the secrets of our hearts that we hide even from ourselves, we will wrestle with the darkness within, and strive to build those qualities that will make us loyal and understanding people to others. The more we understand ourselves, the more understanding we will be of others, knowing the sort of patience and longsuffering we require from others ourselves. Yet all of this self-examination and reflection does not in any way remove the longings we have in our hearts. Instead, the labor that we have taken to prepare and ready ourselves only intensifies our longings that others would have the heart to respond to us with the same sort of passionate intensity.
It is hard to read the Bible sometimes and to see such longing expressed so openly by an eternal being, who is often viewed to be so consumed by harsh judgment or so remote and far away that this sort of passionate longing seems strangely disconcerting. It can be deeply uncomfortable to read the passionate jealousy of God for Israel in such passages as Hosea 2:2-5: “Bring charges against your mother, bring charges; for she is not My wife, nor am I her Husband! Let her put away her harlotries from her sight, and her adulteries from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and expose her, as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and set her like a dry land, and slay her with thirst. I will not have mercy on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. For their mother has played the harlot; she who conceived them has behaved shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who gave me my bread and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink.'”
In coming to a respect for God, we have to understand both His mind and His heart. After all, we are beings not only of surpassing intellect, but also beings of tender and compassionate hearts with a longing for love and respect. Sometimes these longings become dark and twisted, and sometimes our hearts suffer enough that we become jaded and cynical as we reflect upon the cruelty of this world that we inhabit, but if we are honest with ourselves, we will recognize that despite all that we suffer and despite all that we have endured, we still have very powerful longings at the base of our existence. Yet it is our longings that drive us forward to mature and develop as beings. If we did not have such a heart in ourselves that longed for love and intimacy and connection we would not have the heart that would love others or to desire what was best in them. Oh, that we had such a heart in ourselves that we could love others and be loved in turn as God wishes for us.