“The Otherworldly Nearness of God”

7th & James Baptist Church * 8.4.19 * Hosea 11:1-11 * Jonathan Balmer

Q: Why won’t God abandon His people who relentlessly run from God?

A: God is not a man (who will abandon and destroy), but the Holy one in our midst; God has chosen to not be God without His rescued people; the door is open to come home to the Father.

Video of the Sermon (Video sound is lower quality; see audio recording for better audio, below).
Audio recording of Sermon

“The Otherworldly Nearness of God”

[Notes/ Manuscript]

7th & James Baptist Church * 8.4.19 * Hosea 11:1-11 * Jonathan Balmer

Q: Why won’t God abandon His people who relentlessly run from God?

A: God is not a human being (who will abandon and destroy), but the Holy one in our midst; God has chosen to not be God without His rescued people; the door is open to come home to the Father.

Main point:

The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us.

Introduction:

About a year after I began walking, my parents visited Canada. After an exhausting day in which one of my parents themselves got turned around and lost for at least an hour, we were heading back to the hotel.

My parents entered the elevator. They began to make plans for the night. Then it dawned on them, “Where’s Jonathan?”
“I thought you had him!”

Up and down they searched until they found me: on an elevator, holding a woman’s hand.

“Hi Mommy!” I said, unperturbed.

This habit of wandering off repeated at a fair in Mason, Ohio, and later our new home in Georgia. I would slip away, walk around, and when found respond chipperly unaware why anyone would be concerned.

“Hi Daddy! Hi mom!”

But there were other times, I was perhaps a bit more devious when I slipped away. When I heard we were moving, I poured pancake syrup all over the carpet. When we moved into our new house in Georgia, I decided to make the place my own. On our brand new cabinets, I took a Sharpie, drew a roller coaster across all of them. And upon seeing my mother’s face when she walked in the kitchen I happily declared, “And it’s PERMANENT marker!”

I’m sure my parents thought more than once, “As soon as he learned to walk, THIS is what he chooses to do!?”

1)We see God’s Holiness in His love;
God’s Holiness is known relationally.

Israel in Hosea 11 is a wayward son. God remembers Israel as a child, young, during the time of the Exodus, when God led Israel out of the house of slavery, Egypt. God taught Israel to walk. God led them with cords, but cords of love and kindness away from bondage. “I took them up in my arms;/ but they did not know that I healed them.” (Hosea 11:3)

God is a jealous God, but not because God is needy. Nor is God far off. God has the long-suffering, patient love of a loving parent for his people, Israel. We see God’s Holiness in His love; God’s Holiness is known relationally.

Not long ago had God’s people learned to walk before they used that very ability God gave them to flee from God and were heading to exile—back to bondage—back to the “house of slavery.” God knows they are headed toward harm. God pines for them to come back, like a loving Father wishing for their son to return home.

When I think of this image of a loving parent, a Father for a Son gone astray, I am reminded of the story of a Mother and a Son.

A young man left home to go to school, just before his 20s. His head is filled with new ideas. His suspicion that his mother’s religion, her faith in a man called Jesus who died on a cross, is simplistic and unsophisticated grows. He comes home, announces he’s living with a woman who is not his wife, and that he’s joined a philosophy, a way of viewing life, which is much more sophisticated that his mother’s simple faith with her Bible filled with such odd and even crude stories.

She nearly wallops him right there. She kicks him out of the house, more for joining that philosophical-religious group than the woman he was living with. But she has a dream, from God, who tells her to make peace with her son.

For the next 17 years she prays. And prays. And cries, longing for her son to come home—to leave his wayward way of life. As her son gets to know and respect a Pastor, her hope grows. She goes to the Pastor and begs him to keep talking to her son. “Surely, the son of so many tears can’t perish,” The pastor says, shaking his head as he sends her away.

Finally, God finds the young man, to his great surprise. He discovers none of his elevated philosophy is any match for the restlessness in his heart. His restlessness had to find rest in God.

This isn’t a story from a modern coming-of-age movie. This happened in the 4th-century. The son’s name is Augustine. He would later become one of the most influential theologians in the church.

All the longing, all the tears, of his mother Monica turned into tears of joy. Later, just before her death, Monica and Augustine talk. They were imagining what the Kingdom of God will be like. They speak of God, who is the Truth, and God’s acts. They reach out to wisdom, touching it as best as they could, with each beat of their heart. Then they sighed, left it behind, tasting the first-fruits of the Spirit, but unable to stay there.

[1](footnote links in brackets)

We see God’s Holiness in His love;
God’s Holiness is known relationally.

Who is God? Who is the mysterious one in the Heavens that Augustine and his mother longed to know more? Can we know?  It is true that God is mysterious. It is true, as Paul said, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

But it is also true that God is the one who worked through a mother’s love and tears. That God is the one who would not let the people of God go, though they abandoned Him. God is otherworldly. God is God and we are not. But God is not far off. God is nearer to us than our own breath— regardless of our feelings.

We see God’s Holiness in His love;
God’s Holiness is known relationally.

For

The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us

While beautiful, we can’t just know God’s love by thinking of the love of mothers and fathers.

All of us are flawed, even some of the holiest people I know.

And we can’t separate either God’s holiness or love from God’s great work of saving us.

2) God loves for our sake, and our great good, as only God can.

Israel sought divine help in high places, from idols. The spiritual high places, they wanted to use to attain their security.

Hosea says, “The more I called them, the more they went from me;/  they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols.”

Baals is plural here. “Baal” was a term used for a variety of gods. Some were local gods “protectors” of a city. Others required sacrifices to ensure fertility, children, and the good reputation which came with a large family. Others required incense and ceremony to make sure you had a good crop.

And as “primitive” and as this seems to us, we have plenty of Baals.

David Zahl recently wrote a book called Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It.

It details all the ways we do just this: try to secure a future, sacrificing what we think we need to attain the security we desire. And since we’re speaking of parenting, he points out even loving parenting, can make the list.

Zahl lists an ever-expanding list of anxieties he had that he was secretly ruining his children. He bought parenting books to assuage his worry. He once read that he should read to his young son an hour a day. So he committed to the idea. Ten minutes in, he and his son both fell asleep. Zahl to be awoken by his son who had awoken from a nightmare that he was mad at him for not reading enough.

“Whatever creed we claim to follow,” Zahl says, much parenting “behavior betrays a belief that there is no future for our kids—ultimately no enoughness—beyond that which we engineer for them. Such an astronomical burden is a recipe for breakdown in parents just as much as in their … kids.”

Will we be able to guarantee a “good future” for those we love?
Is one’s love ever enough? We seem to be on a quest to prove it and, in the process, trying to prove ourselves means being in control overtakes simply being there for one another. Zahl finally concludes that there is no one secret to parenting, for loving anyone, and raising children, especially, is a risk, an act of faith rather than of control. And leaps of faith are scary.

[2]

Of course, I don’t mean to singularly blame parents for the pressures they face. All of us are at risk for loving selfishly or trying to secure a future.

Anyone who has seen, or been, a kid who heaped on praise and reminders of “Mom, Dad, You know how much I love you…”— just around the same time they want something, knows that.

Whatever they are, even if they’re good things by themselves, idols promise success. And, more attractive, they promise us control of circumstances: over our prosperity, over our family and fortunes—if only we would only make the proper sacrifice, go to the high place, find the wisdom that others lack and we alone can own.

But what idols deliver us to is sickness. They bring us to death. No Baal, no idol, no system of spirituality on the “high places” would give Israel security. And they won’t help us either. Our true help, the true good, was only in the Lord who bends down, helps us learn to walk, and binds our wounds with His love.
For God loves for our sake, and our great good, as only God can.

In Hosea, God speaks:
“How can I hand you over, O Israel?

My heart recoils within me;
    my compassion grows warm and tender.
I will not execute my fierce anger;
    I will not again destroy Ephraim;
for I am God and no mortal,
    the Holy One in your midst,
    and I will not come in wrath.”

God will not finally destroy His people.

God loves for our sake, and our great good, as only God can.

Because

The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us. Only God loves as a pure gift.

Nothing makes God needy. No one forces God to create or save.

Still, God will not abandon Israel. God won’t abandon the people of God.

To understand God’s holy love we must start with how God shows it.

God loves for our sake, and our great good, as only God can.

Because

The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us.

God is a mystery. God is beyond our comprehension. These are true. But this does not mean we do not know God’s will.

3) God’s will and love for us is the same that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally.


Remember, Jesus said this to his disciples:

I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15).

One of my theological heroes is Martin Luther: the great Protestant Reformer who sounded the alarm bells to awaken the church to the truth of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.

And yet, even Luther, fell victim to this sort of thinking that there was some “secret will of God,” which is completely different from what we see in the Preached mercy of God.

Luther said there are different visions of God’s will. There is “The Preached and offered mercy of God”. And then there is the “Secret and to be feared will of God.” Luther said that the preached word of God says God does not “will the death of a sinner,” Luther said that the preached word of God says God does not “will the death of a sinner,”

BUT the hidden will God MAY WELL will the death of a sinner and, therefore, God may not empower some to repent.

That is, the hidden will might will that some do not repent.

Luther then claims we shouldn’t think of the “hidden will” of God too much—since we cannot know it.

[3]

Maybe we also think there is a hidden will of God. Some wisdom God hides.

We think: what if God wants something else for me than God has said.

Or maybe, we think, God’s will is a bit more complicated than can be summed up in Jesus and what Jesus would have us do. And that we have some “higher wisdom” ourselves more in line with that “hidden will”.

Why should I spend my time with those who are inconvenient or hard to talk to? I mean, aren’t there professionals for that sort of thing?

And why should I be so upset over someone else being treated unfairly— “that’s just the way things are.” God must have a reason for it.

And, yes, it may sound nice to love your enemies. But surely it’s only common sense not to forgive them until they’ve proven they are, now, good people.

And, all those things in the sermon on the mount? Sure Jesus is using hyperbole but even as hyperbole — think of what he’s saying!

“Any man who lusts after a woman is guilty of adultery?”
Really? The man is guilty? Is that realistic? Is that “sex positive”?
I mean, “boys will be boys…”

Perhaps, it just comes down to we doubt God really wants what is best for us.

But none of that is not true. None of that is what Jesus has shown us.

We know this because … God’s will and love for us is the same that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally.

This is what it means that God is “the Holy One in your midst.”

God’s will is not hidden far away, inaccessible. God does not act one way to save us and another in secrecy. God is a mystery, but God is not a contradiction who says one thing and does another.

God’s Holiness is relation. It is relation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it present in God’s relation to us. When God opposes sin and all that harms us, he does it by taking on all that threatens us: sin, and death. God enters into our dangerous situation. And in that way God puts an end to our disobedience, through Jesus, the faithful one.

And that is, perhaps, one reason the Gospel of Matthew quotes this passage of Hosea when Jesus and his parents return after fleeing to Egypt as a child. “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

Not only did Jesus come out of Egypt as a matter of geography or history, but Jesus is the Son. Not the disobedient Son, but the faithful and beloved Son with whom the Father is well-pleased (Mt. 3:17).

And the love of the Father for the Son is the same which acts to save God’s people throughout the Bible.
Grace is not ONLY in the New Testament. It’s right here in Hosea!

God’s will and love for us is the same that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally.

The Holy One is God with us and for us, who calls and does not will to be God without us. Jesus is not a powerful, but far-off, god of myths.
Jesus is not a distant Baal that we must ascend toward. Jesus is the beloved of the Father who came to us, as Philippians (2:6-8) says,

 “Though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.”


And through Jesus’ death and resurrection, God secures a people forever. We Gentiles (non-Jews), who were far from the promise of God, are brought near. (Ephesians 2:11-13).

 The Father, in love sends Jesus the Son and, rescues the people of God. And the Holy Spirit completes the work of making us holy. In Jesus, God takes our place, bears the terrible results of sin, and releases us from the horrible sickness, the horrible death, sin leaves us in.

[4]

Jesus is the good news that the Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us. God is for us, truly for us. And there is no secret will of God that would rather us not repent.

There is no high place we must ascend to, there is no sacrifice we must make. There is no way we can secure our own well-being and future. We go with the grace of God, the active love which exists between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has come for us and saved us, will we turn to him? Will we acknowledge we cannot climb up the towers of success or self-control to achieve blessing? Will we turn from all the idols life has?
Will we remember that: … 
The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us.

Conclusion:

While Luther was wrong on the “hidden will of God,” he was certainly right when he said, “The whole of Christian life is one of repentance.”

God’s love comes for us and binds our wounds up with love, even before we know it is God who is doing it.

God’s holiness is shown in calling a people. The people God has called is the church. And when we begin to view our life together as such a pure gift, we recognize all of life is such a gift. And we live lives fitting such hope: becoming a community of mercy, forgiveness, welcoming those coming back home, and encouraging one another in holiness.

That God is for us means our hope is not in vain, the compassion we show our neighbor is never a waste, and that turning to God, repentance, can be our way of life. The gift of God is we may be rescued from the ruin of sin and death to the loving embrace of our God.
For The Holy One in our midst does not will to be God without us.


Footnotes

Click bracketed numbers to jump back up the page, right below where the footnotes are.

[1] Augustine’s Confessions, Book IX, Chapter 10.

[2] “The Seculosity of Parenting” in Seculosity: How Career, Parenting, Technology, Food, Politics, and Romance Became Our New Religion and What to Do about It (Fortress Press, 2019).

[3] Martin Luther, “The Bondage of the Will”

[4] See John Webster, “Holiness of God,” in Holiness (Eerdmans, 2003), 31-52.

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