Friday, March 23, 2012

1888 Insight:“Love Stories”

First Quarter 2012 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
"Love Stories"
For the week of March 18-24, 2012
Editor's Note:  Because God's tender love for His earth-born "wife" was Elder R. J. Wieland's favorite subject, the following is adapted from of one of his messages.  This post is considerably longer than our usual "Insights" submissions, but we did not want to lose any of the passion and pathos Elder Wieland felt for the topic.  

Hosea is a captive to a love that he cannot forget.  For him love is eternal.  It's not because he has pity on Gomer as a decent man would pity a wounded creature, but wonder of wonders, he still loves her.  This disheveled wreck of a woman is only the empty shell of the beautiful girl he once fell in love with; there is now no beauty or charm to attract him.  She is in fact repulsive; but Hosea's love has never died in spite of her infidelity and insults. 
What did Hosea's undying love finally accomplish? There's a surprising ending, with lessons that the Seventh-day Adventist Church needs to understand.
When you truly love a woman who loves you and commits herself to you, and then she betrays you, your heart is broken. The sunshine goes out, and the darkness is a bitterness almost like hell.
To lose a loved one in death is painful, but rejection in love is more cruel, like having a limb wrenched from your body.  Friends can sympathize in physical or material pain, but rejection in love is intensely private.  A thousand faces cannot replace the beloved's.
The question we ask is, Can God feel such pain? And does He?
Hinduism, buddhism, Islam – yes, Christianity in general – have long assumed, that the answer is No.  He is impassible, imprevious to the heart-pain we feel.
We may rejoice that He "is touched with the feeling of our infirmities," but can we be touched with the feeling of His pain?
Christ's message to Laodicea stabs us awake. Here is a divine Lover who suffers rejection, based on the vivid scene of the girl who rebuffs her lover in Song of Solomon 5:2.  Hosea (about 785 B.C.) gives, the first portrayal in Scripture of a divine Husband enduring rejection by the "woman" to whom He is captive in His love.  Like Hosea, the heavenly Husband cannot forget and replace the one He loves. 
God permitted the hapless Hosea to suffer this crowning human pain because, He says, "this will illustrate the way My people have been untrue to Me."
Surely Gomer was wooed and won, and the evidence in the story must indicate that she was at first sincere in her love to Hosea, for he was ever afterward a heart-captive to his love for her.  The pain he later felt was the realization that she had at one time truly loved him; one doesn't feel pain when someone else's limb is wrenched from his body – you feel it when yours is.  Hosea and Gomer had been married and had become "one flesh" in love. And then she turned perfidious. That's why Hosea hurt so badly.
God, in His foreknowledge, saw what Hosea could not see in his courtship – the prostitute-to-be was secreted within the heart of the engagingly attractive girl he was doomed to fall in love with.  Probably she herself did not fathom what potential for sin was in her – the seed of lust yet hidden deep from the eyes of others (perhaps from our own as well) until it "has conceived" and "is full-grown." 
We see Hosea loving and marrying a beautiful girl, only to suffer anguish as he watches her become hard-hearted and faithless, like watching something precious sicken and die. Even in his presence she flirted with her paramours.  What pain!  But he couldn't find a new "love." He didn't even want to.  He loved her with a human love that reflected God's divine love for Israel – and for us.
He sought her out again at the slave-market. Seeing the disheveled figure sitting with downcast eyes, he felt something more than mere human pity: he discovered he still loved her with the love that first had led him to her.
Hosea does not force us to believe in an impossible marital bliss suddenly reinstated. "You must live alone for many days," her husband told her, not because she must atone for her sins, but simply because heart-healing takes time.  "I will wait for you," he says. 
The Good News implicit in the inspired story is that success came; there was healing.  "Love is strong as death,… Many waters cannot quench love."
Is Christ a captive to His love for His remnant church?
A church is a "woman," good or bad, a corporate body of believers.  If the object of Christ's love plays false to Him, can He simply shrug His shoulders and replace her with another "object [of]… His supreme regard" (Ellen White, Acts of the Apostles, page 12)?
Hosea couldn't, and neither can Christ. Offshoots of the Seventh-day Adventist Church proliferate because of a failure to understand this divine mystery of love.  They assume that Christ's outrage at her infidelity prompts Him to choose another to take her place.   But this can never be!
It may be hard for us to picture a grieving husband who not only loves his faithless wife but, greater still, also has the wisdom to "save" her.  Such was Hosea; and such is Christ. Not only a "husband" to her, He is also "the Saviour of the body" (Ephesians 5:23).  The glad news is that Hosea actually redeemed Gomer to a new life of purity and fidelity.  We see them walking off-stage hand in hand in a love that is fulfilled, secure at last in each other's fidelity.  This love is prophetic of God's at-last-vindicated divine love.
Gomer returned to Hosea "trembling, submissive," repentant, rejoicing the heart of the one who had loved her all along, as surely as Israel was to return at last to the Lord.  Let all listen who may doubt that a husband's love can win over a wife's infidelity! 
Jeremiah provides an insight here:  "I remember the unfailing devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, when you followed me in the wilderness…. Israel then was holy to the Lord." "She will answer as in her youth, when she came up out of Egypt" (Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:15, NEB).
His "Great Disappointment" – 1888
In her early days in the "wilderness," Israel was devoted to the Lord; and in the early days of the Seventh-day Adventist Church there was also a sweet devotion on "our" part to the Lord who had led "us" through the "wilderness" of the Great Disappointment of 1844 and in later years vouchsafed to "us" the proofs of His electing love.  It was exciting.  The healing of our Great Disappointment was delicious because fellowship with the Lord grew deeper in our understanding of the sanctuary message and "the blessed hope" it gave us.
Then came His "Great Disappointment" – 1888.  We have yet to appreciate the pain He felt, and does feel. "The disappointment of Christ is beyond description" (Ellen White, Review and Herald, Dec. 15, 1904).
Encouragement for tired, perplexed Seventh-day Adventists
The prophecy implicit in Hosea has to be Good News for a remnant church that a century later is enmeshed in a vast worldwide lethargy, torn with dissension, suspicion, and offshoots.  As surely as Gomer at last responded to Hosea's undying love, so surely will the corporate church respond at last to Christ's undying agape.  Christ gave Himself in death for this church; His sacrifice cannot prove a failure; a repentant humanity cannot remain more faithless to Him than was the repentant heroine of the Book of Hosea to her earthly husband; God has faith in us that must not prove futile.
The success of the entire plan of salvation depends upon its final hour – Laodicea's repentance.  Gomer's repentance foretells Laodicea's repentance.  Christ "shall see the travail of His soul and be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:12).  "The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall.  It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out – the chaff separated from the precious wheat.  This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place."  "They will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him." There will be a response from "the house of David, and… the inhabitants of Jerusalem" (Ellen White, Upward Look, page 356; Zechariah 12:10-13:1).  It's a sin for discouraged Adventists not to believe the Good News in Hosea!
Speaking through Hosea, the Lord assures faithless Israel of a happy reunion:
"They will return to the Lord their God, and to the Messiah, their King, and they shall come trembling, submissive to the Lord and to his blessings, in the end times" (Hosea 4:5 LB).  Since agape is a love that creates value in its object, not dependent on its good qualities, it will create repentance within the church where self-centered fear or hope of reward have failed.
Although Israel's infidelity was atrocious, God's grace to her was greater: 
"The Lord has filed a lawsuit against you.… Don't point your finger at someone else, and try to pass the blame to him!  Look, priest, I am pointing my finger at you.… My people are destroyed because they don't know me, and it is all your fault, you priests.… O Ephraim and Judah, what shall I do with you? For your [conjugal] love vanishes like morning clouds, and disappears like dew.… I don't want your sacrifices – I want your love; I don't want your offerings – I want you to know me.…You refused my [husbandly] love.…I will cure you of idolatry and faithlessness" (Hosea 1-6; 14:4, LB).
Gomer represents the remnant church.
Gomer, sitting in the slave market "miserable, poor, blind, and naked," must have been the most pathetic of all the women of ancient Israel.  Scripture hints that Hosea had come from a "princely" family.  If so, he must have given her "fine linen, and covered [her] with silk" as the Lord cared for Israel, and "decked her with ornaments and … put bracelets upon [her] hands, and a chain on [her] neck" (Ezekiel 16:10; Hosea 2:13).  Yet now she sits on center stage in rags.  Not an earring left.
Again, Hosea is prophetic of Laodicea's poverty. 
The Lord intended was that the Seventh-day Adventist message, "the third angel's message in verity," should have lightened the earth with the glory of the everlasting Good News gospel, the magnificent fruition of the dreams of all the ancient prophets. In the 1888 message of Christ's righteousness were those "fine clothes" and "ornaments" of truth that would have sparkled in gospel "glory" (see Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, page 63-69).  But that most precious message was resisted and in a great degree was "kept away from our own people" and "from the world," as Gomer despised the gifts her husband gave her (see Ellen White, 1 Selected Messages, page 234, 235).
Not only have we suffered a tragic loss, we have grieved the heart of Christ.  
Hosea sweeps back the curtain to reveal what was hidden from us – God's pain.  We treated Him as despitefully as the Jews treated Him, and as Gomer (in type) treated Hosea.  We "insulted" the Holy Spirit.  "The course pursued at Mineappolis was cruelty to the Spirit of God" (Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, page 393; Manuscript 13, 1889) And Jesus, being still human as well as divine, intensely feels that "cruelty." Yet He is to become the wedded Husband to His corporate church!
Hosea has injected a new note into prophetic consciousness.
The sin of Israel was more than disobedience to the law.  It was the profound sin of heart-alienated, spiritual adultery.  There was a mysterious forsaking of love itself, a hard-hearted cruelty to the Divine Spouse, a flippant unconcern for His pain, a callous breaking of His heart.  Such is also the dark hue of Laodicea's sin, a trifling with His total heart-devotion that led Him to His cross.  In Hosea's day, their sin was Baal-worship; in ours, says Ellen White, "The prejudices and opinions that prevailed at Mineappolis are not dead by any means.… Baal, Baal, is the choice.  The religion of many among us will be the religion of apostate Israel" (Hosea 2:8, 13, 17; Ellen White, Testimonies to Ministers, pages 467, 468).  Baal-worship is the worship of self, disguised as the worship of Christ.  This subtle and deadly infidelity is widespread in the corporate body.
So far, 150 years have passed since the sweet "espousal" of our denominational childhood.  Yes, there was love for Jesus!  The joy of that time of love is clear in Early Writings, and the first volume ofTestimonies for the Church.  But we have repeated Israel's alienation.  We can't understand the crudity of their idol worship, but it mirrors our own worldly self-devotion, an inability to feel for the pain that Christ feels.  Gomer can flirt with her lovers while her anguished husband watches helplessly.  She has no feeling for him, no inner sense or horror at what she is doing.
What can cause such infidelity?
She was married to the only man who had ever truly loved her, and who had ever awakened in her heart a true love response.  To turn her back on the true love of a faithful Lover whom once she loved, involves a tragic poignancy.  In 6000 years the Lord has had no problem as serious as His problem with Laodicea today.
But a change of heart is possible, and in the light of Hosea, it is certain. A much more abounding grace must be seen in the light of the cleansing of the sanctuary.  The Good News is that the coming of Christ is contingent on Laodicea's deep, heart-felt repentance. "Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready" (Revelation 19:7).
Some have concluded from the painful facts of our past and current history that the Lord has cast off this denominated, organized church.
But they forget (or have they never understood?) the kind of love portrayed in the Book of Hosea
--R. J. Wieland

Raul Diaz