Another Church Meeting, 8/2/1998
Yearning Toward God, 11/29/1998
Yearning With Joseph, 12/20/1998
Christmas Eve Sermon, 12/24/1998
Faith Is Risky, 2/28/1999
What Does God Want?, 2/27/2000
Condemned?, 3/12/2000
No Matter What, 2/18/2001
Faith's "Nevertheless", 2/25/2001
Forever a Gift, August 18, 2002
Relating to Other Religions, August 25, 2002
Beyond Our Ordinary Lives, September 1, 2002
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Hosea 2:14-20

There is a growing number of psychological programs and systems for determining and categorizing personality types. These are used everywhere from the aggressive world of corporate management to the delicate work of marriage counseling. Many of these instruments focus on the question of what different types of people want in relationships.

Not everybody wants exactly the same thing from other people. For example, some people need more space in relationships, while others need more interaction. Some like to take the initiative, while others are more comfortable responding to the initiative of others. These assessments could go on endlessly, one would suppose, because of our individual uniqueness.

What would such an inventory tell us about God? It isn't an entirely inane question. The Bible reveals God as relational, and the theologians would say that our basic relational capacities and needs exist because we are created in the image of God. What does God want? If some people never ask that question it is probably because they assume they already know what God wants.

We learn early that God, like our parents, wants obedience. God has rules. One of the most common associations the public world makes with God is the Ten Commandments. What does God want? God wants us to not do these things - there is a depressingly long list, and God wants us to do other things, and to the young the list can seem very boring. Probably most adults still believe, and never question, that what God wants primarily is our obedience to rules and laws.

If our perception is enlarged a bit, we begin to see that it isn't that simple. God doesn't just want obedience. The Pharisees of Jesus' day were fanatics about obeying the law, and Jesus had less patience with them than with prostitutes and publicans. God want our life. God wants our allegiance, our commitment. Remember the old poster of a stern-looking Uncle Sam with his finger pointing at us? The caption read, "Uncle Sam wants you." That's what God wants. Us.

Maybe God wants us in some particular way: to become a preacher, or a priest, or a missionary. Whatever our particular calling, however, God wants us to enlist. God wants our lives. Of course, God wants one-tenth of our money, and at least that much of our time and talents. Also, God wants our prayer. "Pray without ceasing," the Bible says. It may make God sound like an older relative who expects a certain amount of attention, but God wants our prayers. All of this is part of the perspective that sees God wanting our lives, and if we leave it at this, God may come off looking somewhat vain and more than a bit greedy.

The next rung on the ladder of spiritual maturity might be the realization that God's desire for our lives is not so selfish after all. We find it throughout the Bible, but it certainly becomes clear in the teaching of Jesus that what God wants is for us to love and serve others. "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." True, God wants our lives, but wants them primarily lived in love for and in service to others, following the example of Jesus.

While each of these suggestions contains elements of truth, if taken alone each also falls well short of the mark. If we stop here in trying to answer the question of what God wants, the central issue is missed.

Hosea was one of the eighth-century prophets. Something new in the work of these prophets sets them apart from all previous Old Testament prophecy. It was a refined sense of ethical responsibility. They saw more clearly than their predecessors that how we relate to God and how we relate to each other are simply inseparable. They laid a sturdy foundation for the revolutionary teachings of Jesus several centuries later.

Hosea was a gentle and sensitive prophet. He was different in temperament from, say, Amos, who was more stern and unbending. Hosea not only witnessed the growing unfaithfulness and corruption of God's people, but he also experienced the unthinkable personal tragedy of having his wife, Gomer, leave him and become a prostitute. In the book of Hosea there is a dramatic parallel between God's broken-heartedness over Israel's faithlessness and Hosea's grief over Gomer.

The book makes clear that both God and Hosea have hearts of unbelievable love. It is sometimes difficult to tell whether it is God or Hosea to whom the book is referring. God loves Israel with the passion of a spurned but still hopeful lover.

Mercy, in Hosea, is not something that might be granted if the guilty party comes home and makes a proper repentance. Inconceivably it goes to retrieve the beloved betrayer with dreams of sweet reconciliation. The tenderness in our text is almost unmatched anywhere in its poignancy. We have to go to Golgotha's hill to find a more profound example of selfless love, or a more radical expression of divine forgiveness.

Hosea bears witness to what Jesus has so fully revealed to us about God. God is, first and last, a God of love. To say only that God loves, however, does not exhaust the meaning of this truth. What does God want? God wants to be loved.

This isn't difficult to comprehend. What do I want? Back of all my individual eccentricities, beneath my particular relational profile, whoever I am, I want to be known and loved. That is as basic as it gets. I want to be known fully, and loved for who I am. If I am made in the image of God, what is the obvious implication?

In Alice Walker's book, The Color Purple, there is a scene where Shug is talking to Celia about sex and ends up talking about God: People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back..."You mean [God] want to be loved, just like the Bible say?" "Yes," Celia says. "Everything want to be loved."

Can our minds stretch to imagine such a God? Can our hearts begin to offer what this God really wants?

The Rev. Esther Hargis
February 27, 2000

© 2000, Esther Hargis

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