Those who seek to strengthen Holy Matrimony and stem the tide of failed marriages propose many remedies, among them better catechesis, improved marriage preparation, and greater emphasis on the sacrament in sermons. All of these are fine ideas and necessary steps, but let’s also ponder a deep but often unexplored root of the trouble with marriage today: idealism or unrealistic expectations.
Although we live in cynical times, many people still hold a highly idealistic view of marriage: that it should be romantic, joyful, loving, and happy all the time. It is an ideal rooted in the dreamy wishes of romantic longing, but an ideal nonetheless. Amor omnia vincit! (Love conquers all!) Surely, we will live happily ever after the way every story says!
Here’s the problem: Many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a new deal. Yes, many are wandering about thinking, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” to borrow from a U2 song.
There is no such thing as an ideal marriage, only real marriage. Two sinners have been married. A man and a woman with fallen natures, living in a fallen world that is governed by a fallen angel, have entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Like the graces of any Sacrament, those of Holy Matrimony are necessary not because things are wonderful, but because they are oftentimes difficult. Marriage is meant to sanctify. Like baptism, it offers graces that unfold gradually. The graces unfold to the degree that, and at the speed with which, the couple cooperates with God’s work.
It takes a lifetime of joy and challenge, tenderness and tension, difficulty and growth, in order for a husband and wife to summon each other to the holiness that God gives. Some of God’s gifts come in strange packages. Struggles and irritations are often opportunities to grow and to learn what forgiveness, patience, and suffering are all about. These are precious things to learn and to grow in. Frankly, if we don’t learn to forgive we are going to go to Hell (see Mt 6:14-15). Even the best marriages have tension; without tension there is no change.
This may not describe the ideal, happily-ever-after marriage, but it describes the real one: full of joy, love, hope, and tenderness, but also sorrow, anger, stress, and disappointment.
Cultural expectations – Our notion of an ideal (happy, fulfilling, blissful) marriage is also seen through the lens of our culture which has gotten very good at supplying comfort: air conditioning, medicines, indoor plumbing and electricity, nearly instant communication, vast numbers of consumer products that are reasonably affordable, etc. This all creates the expectation that everything should be comfortable and everything should be just the way I want it. There is also in our culture an impatience and need for instant gratification culture that that comes from an efficient economy: “Rush shipping,” “Have it delivered today!” “Buy it with one click,” and “Download now.” If the ideal marriage is not evident very soon, the disappointments and resentments along with impatience come very quickly.
There is a saying that “unrealistic expectations are premeditated resentments.” How quickly unrealistic notions of the picture-perfect marriage are dashed on the shoals of reality.
Somewhere, not only in the Church’s marriage preparation programs but also in our work of assisting personal formation, we need to teach that unrealistic expectations are ultimately destructive. Our ideals are not the problem per se; but we must become more sober about our conception of these ideals through the lens of expected comfort in everything and instant gratification. Growth takes time. Life moves through stages. Marriage is hard, but so is life. Cutting and running from the imperfect marriage—as some do rather quickly today—is not the solution. Sure enough, one imperfect marriage leads to another and perhaps yet another.
In the past, even the relatively recent past, people tended to stick things out, to work through some differences while agreeing to live with others. We would do well to regain something of this appreciation that earthly life is a mixed bag, that there are going to be challenges. Marriage is no different. Though we may idealize it, we should be aware that we are setting ourselves up for resentment and disappointment if we don’t balance it with the understanding that marriage is hard because life is hard.
Clearly there are many other problems that contribute to today’s high rate of divorce, but an overlooked root is the expectation of an ideal marriage. Yes, many want their marriage to be ideal, and if there is any ordeal, they want a newdeal. (We would do well to remember that in a world full of adults behaving like this, it is the children who really get a raw deal.) This is a deeper and less discussed cultural root of our divorce problem, a deep wound of which we should become more aware.
There are some today who speak of annulment as “just another name for a Catholic divorce.” However, this is not correct. An annulment (more technically described as a “Declaration of Nullity”) is a recognition by the Church, based on evidence, that what may in fact have seemed to be a marriage, was not due to some intrinsic flaw at the time the vows we exchanged. A marriage may have been a civil marriage entered into in good faith by one or both of the parties, but something essential was lacking in the intentions or understanding of one or both parties that made the marriage invalid that a true marriage never existed in religious terms. Thus there is nothing to divorce, since no marriage exists. “Divorce” is a term of civil law and the Lord explicitly teaches that he will not be bound by the decision of some civil judge. (see Malachi 2:16 ; Matthew 19:1-12, among others). However, not every couple who goes through a marriage ceremony does so validly and that is the key matter in question in the process of annulment, “Was this marriage validly celebrated?” It is actually our Lord Jesus himself who makes this point at the the very moment he teaches against divorce. Lets look at what he teaches.
The Biblical Root of Annulments. The Lord says this in regard to marriage: “What God has joined together, let no one divide (Mat 19:6). On the face of it, divorce and any sort of annulment is forbidden would seem forbidden by this. But actually the text serves as a basis for the Church’s allowance of annulment under certain circumstances. The text says What GOD has joined together cannot be divided.
Now just because two people stand before a Justice of the Peace, or a minister or even a priest and swear vows, does not mean that what they do is a work of God. There have to be some standards that the Church insists on for us to acknowledge that what they do is “of God.”
There are a number of impediments that can render what they do ipso facto invalid. Things such as prior marriage, consanguinity (too close in the blood lines), minor status (too young), incapacity for the marriage act, and lying or failing to disclose important information to the future spouse. There are others as well. Further, it is widely held that when one or both parties are compelled to enter the marriage or that they display a grave lack of due discretion on account of immaturity or poor formation, that such marriages are null on these grounds. All these are ways that the Church, using her power to bind and loose, comes to a determination that what appeared to be a marriage externally was not in fact so based on evidence. Put more scripturally, the putative marriage was not “what God has joined together.”
You may ask, “Who is the Church to make such a determination?” I answer that, “She is in fact the one to whom the Lord entrusted, through the ministry of Peter and the Bishops the power to bind and loose (Mt 18:18) and to speak in His name (Lk 10:16).
Annulments are not Divorces– As noted, a decree of nullity from the Church is a recognition, based on the evidence given, that a marriage in the Catholic and Biblical sense of the word never existed. Since a person has not in fact been joined by God they are free to marry in the future. In such a case a person does not violate our Lord’s declaration that one who divorces their spouse and marries another commits adultery (cf Matt 19:9).
There are some who wonder: Are we giving too many annulments? While it is clear that the Church has some pretty clear canonical norms regarding marriage, like any norms they have to be interpreted and applied. Certain American practices and norms have evolved over the last forty years that some question as being too permissive and thus no longer respectful of the binding nature of marital vows. I am not without my concerns that we may give too many annulments but there is nothing intrinsically flawed with the Church teaching here, concern is directed only to the prudential application of the norms.
Annulment cases vary greatly. Often it isn’t as crass as somebody coming in and saying, “Well I got rid of my first wife and have got me another I want to marry, let’s get the paperwork going Father.” It is usually far more poignant than that.
Perhaps someone married early, before they were really very serious about the faith and they married someone who abused them. Now, years later after the divorce they have found someone who is able to support them in their faith. Perhaps they met them right in the parish. Should a marriage that was in young and foolish years and lasted all of six months preclude them from entering a supportive union that looks very promising?
Another more common scenario is often the case where in a person shows up at RCIA who has recently found the Catholic faith and wants to enter it. However, they were married 15 years ago in a Protestant Church to their current spouse who had been married before. Now, mind you, their current marriage is strong and they have both been drawn to the Catholic Faith. They have four kids as well. What is a priest to do? Well I can tell you that this priest will help the one who needs an annulment to get it. I can tell you a lot of cases come to the Church this way. It’s hard and perhaps even unjust to say to someone like this that there is nothing the Church can do for them, they will never qualify for sacraments. No, we just don’t do that, we take them through the process for annulment and see if there can be evidence that the first marriage was null.
Perhaps too another person shows up at the door, A long lost Catholic who has been away 30 years. During that time he or she did some pretty stupid stuff including getting married and divorced, sometimes more than once. Now they show up at my door in a current marriage that seems strong and helpful and which includes children. The person is in desperate need of confession and Holy Communion. What is a pastor to do? He takes them through the process of annulment to get them access to those sacraments if possible.
So there it is. There are very grave pastoral issues on both sides. The current instinct of the Church, given the poisonous quality of the culture toward marriage is to be more willing to presume there were problems.
If you are in a second marriage, please consider contacting your parish priest. Don’t presume you’re unwanted, or can never receive the sacraments. The tribunal process isn’t that difficult and the Church stands ready to assist you.
The Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist celebrated on Thursday speaks to a critical issue in our times. Herod both resisted and violated his own conscience; he feared the opinion of the crowd more than that of God, ordering the hideous and unjust murder of John the Baptist. Unfortunately, such acts are commonly committed by some leaders and others who compromise with evil in order to survive and flourish in an evil world. The reason for John’s imprisonment and murder is what makes his death a lesson, particularly for our age.
Simply put, St. John the Baptist died because he told Herod Antipas that his “marriage” to Herodias was invalid and sinful. Herod Antipas had divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, so as to be able to marry Herodias, who had been married to his half-brother Herod II (also known as Herod Philip I). The situation is described in Scripture:
For Herod himself had ordered that John be arrested and bound and imprisoned, on account of his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, whom Herod had married. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she had been unable, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing he was a righteous and holy man (Mark 6:17-20).
Herod eventually yielded to the machinations of Herodias, and John the Baptist was murdered for upholding the sanctity of marriage. Jesus would later affirm John’s teaching and say,
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery (Mark 10:11-12).
Jesus suffered rebuke, even from his disciples (cfMatt 19:10), for teaching this (cfMatt 19:7), but He withstood them and rebuked their error (cf: Matt 19:8-9). St. John the Baptist died for this teaching, as did St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher.
Today there are many, even within the Church up to the highest levels of authority, who are willing to set aside or compromise this teaching, making sacramental accommodations never before imagined. While not every civil marriage is a sacramental marriage, and the church should be willing to hear evidence and potentially grant annulments in such cases, we cannot water down the Lord Jesus’ unambiguous teaching, a teaching these saints died to defend.
It is not simply an error to supplant this ancient teaching of the Lord—it is a grievous error. It is grievous because, intentionally or not, it diminishes the deaths of these glorious martyrs who loved and revered God too much to flatter men, even powerful ones. They suffered for this truth in a way that most today are not willing to suffer. This teaching, as the disciples imply, is a hard one (Matt 19:10), but how can we set aside something that Jesus insisted upon and for which these martyrs died?
The Church must have a pastoral stance for the divorced and remarried through a willingness to investigate their situations and grant annulments where appropriate. Further, we can recognize that not all situations are the same; not all acted in bad faith or with malice. However, we cannot set aside the truth of the Gospel to do this. Sometimes the answer must be that we cannot, at this time, extend the sacraments to them. We can still hold them close and encourage them to pray, attend Mass, and beseech God, until such time as they are willing to live as brother and sister. We can do nothing less because Jesus teaches this clearly.
At the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist, we do well to remember and cling to the truth for which he died.
I am often approached by widows and widowers after the death of a spouse with a question similar to this one, which was submitted to me at my “Question and Answer” column in Our Sunday Visitor.
I recently lost my husband of 46 years and long to be reunited with him one day. But some people have told me that our marriage ended with his death and that Jesus says we will not be married or considered spouses in heaven. This is difficult for me to understand. Will we even know each other in heaven or have anything special there between us?
One can certainly hear the pain in her question. It is perhaps a needless pain, born out of an unnecessarily strict reading of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus was responding to a hypothetical question posed by the Sadducees about a woman who had been married to seven different brothers and bore no children to any of them. They raise this not so much as a marriage question but as a way to make the teaching of the resurrection appear ludicrous. Jesus sets aside their argument in the following way:
Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him and put this question to him, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, ‘If someone’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers. The first married a woman and died, leaving no descendants. So the second married her and died, leaving no descendants, and the third likewise. And the seven left no descendants. Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection, whose wife will she be? For all seven had been married to her.”
Jesus said to them, “Are you not mistaken because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God? When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Instead, they will be like the angels in heaven. As for the dead being raised, have you not read about the burning bush in the Book of Moses, how God told him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living. You are badly mistaken” (Mk 12:18-27).
The Sadducees posed this not so much as a question about marriage but as a way to make the teaching of the resurrection seem ridiculous.
The first thing to note is that Jesus speaks of marriage only in a passing way. His response to the question about the highly unlikely scenario is designed to teach solemnly on the reality of the resurrection of the dead. In His response, Jesus does not fully develop a teaching on the experience of spouses toward each other in Heaven.
Hence, we ought not to conclude that a long marriage in this world will have no meaning at all in the age to come. In heaven our body and our soul will be perfected. So, too, our fundamental relationships, both spousal and familial. They will not be discarded or simply forgotten. Surely those who are spouses here will experience a far more perfect union in Heaven. They will enjoy mutual understanding, love, appreciation, and spiritual intimacy far greater than they could even imagine. They will have this because they have it first and foremost with God; and with, in, and through God they will enjoy this perfected union with each other. The same would be true of our other familial relationships and bonds of friendship, to each according to what is proper and perfect. The married will enjoy this supremely, because marital bonds on earth receive special divine graces.
The early Church writer Tertullian affirms this view:
All the more shall we be bound to our departed spouses because we are destined to a better estate … to a spiritual partnership …. Consequently, we who are together with God shall remain together…. In eternal life God shall no more separate those he has joined together than in this life where he forbids them to be separated (Tertullian, On Monogamy, 10).
To be sure, some aspects of marriage do end with the death of a spouse. The marital vows that bind the couple to an exclusive relationship, forsaking all others, are only operative until death do them part. Thus, the death of a spouse permits the surviving spouse to marry again. In some cases, especially before the modern age, such marriages for widows or widowers were necessary for financial and familial reasons.
That a marriage ends by the death of a spouse speaks more to worldly realities than to heavenly ones. It still does not follow that one’s earthly marriage will have no meaning in Heaven. Even if a person remarries after the death of his/her spouse, surely both relationships will be perfected in Heaven, not discarded. As the relationships are perfect, there will be no jealousy or resentment between the first spouse and the second.
In His response to the Sadducees, Jesus surely does mean that there will be no new marriages in Heaven. There will be no wedding bells, no marriage ceremonies, for Heaven is already one grand marriage feast of Christ with His Bride, the Church.
Further, marriage is given here in this world for the sake of propagating the human race through having children. This need will not exist in Heaven, where there is no death. The Fathers of the Church emphasize this in their commentary on this teaching:
“For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven” as if He had said, there will be a certain heavenly and angelic restoration to life, when there shall be no more decay, and we shall remain unchanged; and for this reason marriage shall cease. For marriage now exists on account of our decay, that we may be carried on by succession of our race, and not fail; but then we shall be as the Angels, who need no succession by marriage, and never come to an end (Theophylactus, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).
In the resurrection, men shall be as the Angels of God, that is, no man there dies, no one is born, no infant is there, no old men (Pseudo Jerome, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).
For marriages are for the sake of children, children for succession, succession because of death. Where then there is no death, there are no marriages; and hence it follows, But they which shall be accounted worthy, &c (Augustine, as quoted in the Catena Aurea).
As for us living like the angels, the Lord speaks to immortality, but He also teaches that there will no longer be any need for sexual intercourse. This may seem like a drawback to some people, particularly in this hypersexualized age, but the intimacy between spouses in Heaven will be far greater than any mere physical union. When a great joy comes between spouses it eclipses lesser ones. Here too, the Church Fathers affirm this meaning:
Our Lord shows us that in the resurrection there will be no fleshly conversation (Theophylactus, quoted in the Catena Aurea).
Since all fleshly lust is taken away … they resemble the holy angels (Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 136 on Luke).
Married couples should look forward to a relationship that is perfected in Heaven, not set aside. While the juridical aspects of marriage may end at death, the union of hearts and lives will not. In Christ there surely remains a spiritual connection and covenantal union that stretches from Heaven to earth through prayer, and in Heaven the Lord will surely perfect what He joined on earth, giving spouses unimaginable joy and unity.
Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm.
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
he would be roundly mocked (Song of Songs 8:6-7).
In the Office of Readings of the Liturgy of the Hours last week we read from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. The story of the Prophet Hosea’s troubled marriage is a powerful testimony to two things: our tendency to be unfaithful to God, but also God’s passionate love for us. This is particularly important today as there has been so much discussion about divorce and “remarriage.” While many people have endured difficult marriages, remember that God Himself is in a very painful marriage—with us, His people! God surely knows what it is like to have a difficult spouse. The story of Hosea depicts some of God’s grief and shows what He chooses to do about it.
The precise details of Hosea’s troubled marriage are sketchy; we are left to fill in some of the details with our imagination. Here are the basic facts along with some of that “fill in”:
Hosea receives an unusual instruction from God:Go, take a harlot wife and harlot’s children, for the land gives itself to harlotry, turning away from the LORD. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim (Hosea 1:2).
Hosea and Gomer have three children together, each with a meaningful name: Jezreel (God was about to humble Israel in the Jezreel valley), Lo-Ruhama (meaning “not pitied”), and Lo-Ammi (meaning “not my people”). It is possible that these children were not actually Hosea’s but rather the offspring of one or more of Gomer’s various lovers, for although they were born during the marriage, God later refers to them as children of harlotry.
At some point, although the text does not specify when or under what circumstances, Gomer leaves Hosea and enters into an adulterous relationship. We can only imagine Hosea’s pain and anger at this rejection. The text remains silent as to Hosea’s reaction, but God’s is well-documented.
Hosea takes Gomer back. After an unspecified period of time, God instructs Hosea, Give your love to a woman beloved of a paramour, an adulteress; Even as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and are fond of raisin cakes (Hosea 3:1). While the passage does not clearly state that this woman is Gomer, the overall context of the first three chapters of Hosea 1-3 make it clear that it is she. God tells Hosea to redeem, to buy back, Gomer and re-establish his marital bond with her.
Hosea pays a hefty price to purchase Gomer back from her paramour: So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver and about a homer and a lethech [about 10½ bushels] of barley (Hosea 3:2). The willingness of her adulterous lover to “sell her back” demonstrates quite poetically that his love, like the love given by the world, is not real love at all; it is for sale to the highest bidder.
Prior to restoring her to any intimacy, Hosea institutes a period of purification and testing:Then I said to her: “Many days you shall wait for me; you shall not play the harlot Or belong to any man; I in turn will wait for you” (Hosea 3:3).
This story is both difficult and beautiful. Its purpose is not so much to tell us about Hosea’s marriage as it is to show the troubled marriage of the Lord, whose bride—His people—is unfaithful to Him. Both collectively and individually, we have entered into a (marital) covenant with God. Our vows were pronounced at our baptism (usually on our behalf) and we have renewed them on many occasions since that time.
All too often, though, we casually “become intimate” with other gods and worldly paramours. Perhaps we have become enamored of money, popularity, possessions, or power. Perhaps we have forsaken God for our careers, politics, or worldly philosophies. Some have outright left God; others keep two or more beds, speaking of their love for God but dallying with others as well. Yes, it is a troubled marriage, but we are the unfaithful ones.
What does God decide to do? In the end, as Hosea’s story illustrates, God chooses to redeem, to buy back, his bride—and at quite a cost: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 3:19-20). Yes, God paid dearly to draw us back to Him. Yet still we stray and often show little appreciation of His love. There’s an old gospel song says, “Oh, Lord, I’ve sinned but you’re still calling my name.”
A deeper look into the story of Hosea reveals God’s grieving heart. Reading these Old Testament passages requires a bit of sophistication. The text we are about to examine describes God as grieving, angry, and weighing His options; but it also shows Him as loving and almost romantic. On one level, we must remember that these attributes are applied to God in an analogical and metaphorical sense. God is said to be like this, but He is not angry the way we are angry; He does not grieve the way we do; He is not romantic in the way that we are. Although we see these texts in terms of analogy and metaphor, we cannot wholly set them aside as having no direct meaning. In some sense, God is grieving, angry, loving, and even “romantic” in response to our wanderings. Exactly how He experiences these is mysterious to us, but He does choose to describe Himself to us in this way.
With this balanced caution, let’s take a look at some excerpts from the second chapter of Hosea, in which God decodes the story of Hosea and applies it to us. He describes to us His grieving heart as well as His plan of action to win back His lover and bride.
Thoughts of divorce– Protest against your mother, protest! for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband [Hosea 2:4]. The text suggests that God is weighing His options, but perhaps the better explanation is that this line is intended for us readers, so that we will consider that God could rightfully divorce us. However, God will not do that, for although we break the covenant, He will not. Though we are unfaithful, God will not be.If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).
The bitter charge against her– Let her remove her harlotry from before her, her adultery from between her breasts …. “I will go after my lovers,” she said, “who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil, and my drink.” Since she has not known that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, And her abundance of silver, and of gold, which they used for Baal [Hosea 2:4, 7-10]. God’s charge here is not merely that we are unfaithful but also that we are ungrateful. God is the giver of every good thing, but so often we do not thank Him. We run after the world and the powerful in it, thinking it is they who provide our wealth. We love the world and forget about God. We “sleep with” the world. We give credit to medicine, science, and human ingenuity, but do not acknowledge or thank God. Our ingratitude contributes to our harlotry, for we are enamored of secondary causes and not of God, who is the cause of all. We get into bed with the world and its agenda, and we adulterously unite ourselves with it. God is distressed by our ingratitude and adultery and is presented in this passage as a wounded and jealous lover. Remember that these things are said by way of analogy and metaphor. God has inspired this text and wants us to understand that although He is not hurt, angered, or passionate the way that we are, neither is He indifferent to our infidelity.
Grief-stricken but issuing purifying punishment – I will strip her naked, leaving her as on the day of her birth; I will make her like the desert, reduce her to an arid land, and slay her with thirst. I will have no pity on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. Yes, their mother has played the harlot; she that conceived them has acted shamefully. … I will lay bare her shame before the eyes of her lovers, and no one can deliver her out of my hand. I will bring an end to all her joy, her feasts, her new moons, her sabbaths, and all her solemnities. … I will punish her for the days of the Baals, for whom she burnt incense … If she runs after her lovers, she shall not overtake them; if she looks for them, she shall not find them [Hosea 2:5-7, 12-13, 15, 9]. This text could be seen as describing God in a jealous rage, but God has a result in mind. He does not punish as might some despot exacting revenge. He punishes for its medicinal effect. He punishes as one who loves and seeks to restore. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God; we are sinners in the hands of a loving God who seeks reunion with us.
The hoped-for result – Then she shall say, “I will go back to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now” [Hosea 2:9]. God’s intent is to bring His bride back to sanity, to the point that she is ready to seek union once again. Without it she will perish; with it, she will be united with the only one who ever loved her and the only one who can save her.
Passionate lover – So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. From there I will give her the vineyards she had, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, She shall call me “My husband,” and never again “My baal.” Then will I remove from her mouth the names of the Baals, so that they shall no longer be invoked [Hosea 2:16-19]. God wants to be alone with His bride and woo her once again! God will speak lovingly to her heart and declare His love for her again. She, now repentant and devoted, will renew her love as well. There is also an image of purgatory or purgation here. It is likely that when we die, we will still have some attachments to “former lovers” in this world: creature comforts, power, pride, and the like. As we die, God lures us into the desert of purgatory, speaks to our heart, and cleanses us of our final attachments. After this He restores to us the vineyards of paradise that once were ours.
Renewed covenant – I will make a covenant for them on that day …. I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. … and I will have pity on Lo-ruhama. I will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people,” and he shall say, “My God!” [Hosea 2:20-22, 2519] God renews the marriage bond with us, both in the Church and individually!
Here, then, is the astonishing, undying, and pursuing love of God for His bride, the Church, and for each of us individually. After all our whoring and infidelity, we do not deserve it, but God is a passionate lover. As He commanded Hosea to buy back his adulterous wife, so too did God Himself buy us back—at a high price. Certainly, God did not pay Satan. Rather, the large payment in Hosea’s story indicates the great sacrifice God had to make to win back our hearts. We had wandered far, and He had to journey far and then carry us back.
I am not here to render a personal judgment on those who have tried valiantly to save their marriage but were unable to do so. Rather, my purpose is to reach those of you who are currently struggling, who are trying to persevere, so that you realize that God understands your pain. He, too, experiences it from us, time and time again. Yet each day He renews His covenant with us and offers us mercy. In the words of a famous spiritual, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus.”
In the Book of Genesis, God’s plan for marriage is set forth poetically but clearly: one man and one woman in a stable, lasting, fruitful relationship of mutual support. God said, It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable helpmate for him (Gen 2:18). Note that the word used is “helpmate,” not “helpmates.” After teaching the man that animals are not suitable companions, God puts Adam in a deep sleep and, from his rib, fashions Eve (cf Gen 2:21). Note that in presenting a suitable helpmate for Adam God created a woman not another man; He also created one woman—not two, not three. So, we see that both homosexual marriage and polygamy are excluded.
Scripture goes on to insist that marriage is a lasting union, for it says that a man shall “cling” (Hebrew דָּבַק = dabaq) to his wife (not wives), and the two (not three or more) of them shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24). God then went on to tell them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28).
Given the clear plan for marriage, what should we make of the polygamy of the patriarchs (e.g., Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David, and Solomon)? Does God really approve of this? There is no evidence that He thunders from on high at their seemingly adulterous and clearly polygamous behavior; in fact, it seems to go unrebuked. The fact that they have several wives is noted in Scripture more in passing, with little if any shock. For example, Nathan the Prophet rebukes David for many things, but having multiple wives is not among them.
Let’s begin by noting that the Scriptures teach in various ways: there is direct rebuke and punishment described, but there is also subtle instruction through stories. This is the way in which the Scriptures teach against polygamy. Through various stories we learn that polygamy causes nothing but trouble: factions, jealousy, envy, and even murder. The problem was not so much the multiple wives as it was the sons they bore.
Polygamy was common among the Old Testament patriarchs. Here is a “brief” list:
1. Lamech (a descendant of Cain) had two wives (Genesis 4:19). 2. Abraham had more than one wife (Genesis 16:3-4, 25:6 (some were called concubines)). 3. Nahor (Abraham’s brother) had both a wife and a concubine (Genesis 11:29, 22:20-24). 4. Jacob was tricked into polygamy (Genesis 29:20-30) and later received two additional wives bringing the grand total of four wives (Genesis 30:4, 9). 5. Esau took a third wife to please his father Isaac (Genesis 28:6-9). 6. Ashur had two wives (1 Chronicles 4:5). 7. Obadiah, Joel, Isshiah, and those with them had multiple wives (1 Chronicles 7:3-4). 8. Shaharaim had at least four wives, two of whom he “sent away” (1 Chronicles 8:8-11). 9. Caleb had two wives (1 Chronicles 2:18) and two concubines (1 Chronicles 2:46, 48). 10. Gideon had many wives (Judges 8:30). 11. Elkanah is recorded as having two wives, one of whom was the godly woman Hannah (1 Samuel 1:1-2, 8-2:10). 12. David had at least 8 wives and 10 concubines (1 Chronicles 1:1-9; 2 Samuel 6:23, 20:3). 13. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:1-6). 14. Rehoboam had eighteen wives and sixty concubines (2 Chronicles 11:21) and sought many wives for his sons (1 Chronicles 11:23). 15. Abijah had fourteen wives (2 Chronicles 13:21). 16. Ahab had more than one wife (1 Kings 20:7). 17. Jehoram had multiple wives (2 Chronicles 21:17). 18. Jehoiada the priest gave king Joash two wives (2 Chronicles 24:1-3). 19. Jehoiachin had more than one wife (2 Kings 24:15).
Clearly, polygamy—at least among wealthy and powerful men—was common and brought little condemnation from God or His prophets.
The silence of God does not connote approval, however. Just because something is mentioned in the Bible does not mean that it is approved. For example, God permitted divorce because of the hard hearts of the people (cf Matt 19:8), but to permit reluctantly is not to endorse or be pleased.
Polygamy, whenever prominently dealt with in Scripture (i.e., mentioned more than just noted in passing), always spelled trouble with a capital T!
Consider some of the following internecine conflicts and tragedies:
Jacob had four wives whom he clearly loved unequally: Leah (whom he considered unattractive and felt himself “stuck with”), Rachel (his first love), Bilnah (Rachel’s maid), and Zilpah (Leah’s maid). Leah bore him six sons and a daughter: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulan, and Dinah. Rachel was infertile for many years, but finally gave birth to Joseph and later Benjamin. Bilnah bore him Naphtali and Dan, while Zilpah bore him Gad and Asher.
All these sons by different mothers created tension, the greatest of which surrounded Joseph, whose brothers grew jealous and began to hate him, for their father, Jacob, favored Joseph as Rachel’s son. The brothers hatched a plot to kill Joseph, but due to a combination of their desire for monetary gain and the intervention of Reuben, he was instead sold into slavery. At the root of this sad story of this bitter conflict was a polygamous mess. The clear teaching (among others) is this: Don’t do polygamy.
Gideon had many wives and by them many sons.Scripture tells the story of violence and death that resulted from this situation, with the sons all competing for kingship and heritage.
Now Gideon had seventy sons, his direct descendants, for he had many wives. His concubine who lived in Shechem also bore him a son, whom he named Abimelech. At a good old age Gideon, son of Joash, died and was buried in the tomb of his father Joash in Ophrah of the Abiezrites. Abimelech, son of Jerubbaal (i.e., Gideon), went to his mother’s kinsmen in Shechem, and said to them and to the whole clan to which his mother’s family belonged, “Put this question to all the citizens of Shechem: ‘Which is better for you: that seventy men, or all Jerubbaal’s sons, rule over you, or that one man rule over you?’ You must remember that I am your own flesh and bone.” When his mother’s kin repeated these words to them on his behalf, all the citizens of Shechem sympathized with Abimelech, thinking, “He is our kinsman.” They also gave him seventy silver shekels from the temple of Baal of Berith, with which Abimelech hired shiftless men and ruffians as his followers. He then went to his ancestral house in Ophrah, and slew his brothers, the seventy sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon), on one stone. Only the youngest son of Jerubbaal, Jotham, escaped, for he was hidden (Judges 9:1-5).
At the heart of this murderous conflict was polygamy. The sons competed for kingship, power, and inheritance. They had little love for one another because they had different mothers. Abimelech’s loyalty was not to his half-brothers but to his mother and her clan; he did not hesitate to slaughter them to gain power.
Among other things evident in this terrible tale is that polygamy leads to chaos and hatred. The story is cautioning, “Don’t do polygamy.”
King David had at least eight wives (Michal, Abigail, Ahinoam, Eglah, Maacah, Abital, Haggith, and Bathsheba) and ten concubines. Trouble erupts in this “blended” (to put it mildly) family when Absalom (David’s third son, whose mother was Maacah) sought to move to the head of the line of succession. When his older brother Chileab died, only his half-brother Amnon stood in the way. The tension between these royal sons of different mothers grew intense. Amnon raped Absalom’s sister Tamar, and Absalom later had Amnon murdered for it (cf 2 Sam 13).
Absalom fled and over time nourished hatred for his father David, eventually waging a war against him in an attempt to overthrow his power. Absalom is killed in the war, and David can barely forgive himself for his role in his son’s death (2 Sam 18:33). The family intrigue wasn’t over, however.
David’s son Solomon (by Bathsheba, David’s last wife) would eventually become king but only through the machinations of his mother. As David lay dying, his oldest son Adonijah (by Haggith), who was the expected heir (1 Kings 2:15), was proclaimed king in a formal ceremony. Bathsheba conspired with Nathan the Prophet and deceived David into thinking that Adonijah was mounting a rebellion. She also reminded David of a secret promise he had once made to her that Solomon would one day be king. As a result, David intervened and sent word that Solomon would be king. Adonijah fled, returning only after Solomon assured his safety. Despite this he was later killed by Solomon.
What a messy situation! We have sons of different mothers hating one another, wives playing for favor and conspiring behind the scenes, and so forth. Once again, the implicit teaching is this: Don’t do polygamy.
Solomon, it is said, had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Again, nothing but trouble came from this. Scripture says,
King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women. … He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molech the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-6).
The tolerance of pagan religious practices encouraged by these wives, along with other policies, led to great hostility and division in the kingdom. After Solomon’s death, the northern kingdom of Israel seceded from Judah. They were never reunited, and both kingdoms were eventually destroyed by surrounding nations.
Lurking in the mix of this mess is polygamy and this lesson: Don’t do polygamy.
Abraham’s sexual relations with his wife Sarah’s maid, Hagar, while a case of adultery rather than polygamy, also led to serious trouble. Although Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael at Sarah’s behest, Sarah grew jealous and mistreated her, causing her to flee (Gen 16). Hagar eventually returned and gave birth to Ishmael. Later, when Sarah finally bore a child (Isaac), she decided that Ishmael was a threat and had Abraham drive him and Hagar away (Gen 21).
Ishmael went on to become the patriarch of what we largely call the Arab nations; Isaac’s line would be the Jewish people. The rest, as they say, is history.
Once again, polygamy is lurking behind a whole host of problems. Don’t do polygamy.
So, the Bible does teach on polygamy. Through stories, we learn of its problematic nature. We ought not to be overly simplistic and conclude that polygamy was the only problem or that such tragedies never occur in other settings, but it clearly played a strong role.
It would seem that in the Old Testament God tolerates polygamy, as he does divorce, but nowhere does He approve of it.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus signals a return to God’s original plan and excludes divorce.
Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, unless the marriage is unlawful, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matt 19:8-9).
Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matt 19:4-6).
Whatever one may argue with regard to the Old Testament’s approach to marriage, Jesus makes it clear that we are going back to plan A: One man and one woman in a stable, lasting, fruitful relationship of mutual support.
Beware, polygamy is the next taboo targeted for overturning. In the wake of the legalization of gay “marriage,” polygamists and their supporters are insisting that the Bible approves of this way of life. Do a web search on “polygamy” and you’ll see many sites devoted to this thinking and to its promotion.
The basic message must be this: While reporting the existence of polygamy, the Bible also describes the consequences, which were nearly always violent. The biblical teaching, therefore, is clear: Don’t do polygamy.
Here are two clips from the movie Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The first one is somewhat humorous, but in the second one things begin to get dark.
As a kind of follow-up from yesterday’s Gospel on marriage, we do well to ponder where our focus on marriage is, both personally and nationally.
Finding our way back – Part of the essential work we must do in re-establishing a coherent vision for marriage rooted in tradition, Natural Law, and, for believers, Scripture, is to restore a proper reference point so that all the pieces of the discussion make sense.
What is this proper reference point?Marriage is essentially about children and what is best for them. It is not about civil rights; it is not about two adults being happy and fulfilled. If we use the proper starting point, a lot of other things begin to fall in place.
1. Marriage is a stable and lasting union – Children require 18+ years to come to maturity. A stable environment is obviously best for them. In too many cases, children are ferried back and forth between parents who are either divorced or never married in the first place. One weekend here, another there, one summer here, another there. The instability is devastating for children. Parents should seek, above all, to resolve their differences and stay married.
Living in a stable though imperfect home—and all homes are imperfect—is an important way that children learn values such as trust, commitment, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, conflict resolution, love, loyalty, and integrity. It inculcates in them a sense of true marriage and family, knits together important family ties on a multigenerational level, and sets them up to be able to form strong families themselves when they are older. They also learn proper dynamics between men and women: how to treat and regard members of the opposite sex.
Those who simply claim that the traditional, stable family is no better or worse than other arrangement are ignoring what long human experience has taught us in this regard. Scripture affirms the value of a stable family when it speaks of a husband clinging to his wife (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:1ffinter al) and when Jesus forbids divorce (Matt 5, Matt 19, Mark 10 inter al). Marriage is about what is best for children, and as a rule, stability is best.
2. Marriage is the union of two heterosexuals – Though heterosexual relations are obviously necessary for procreation, that is not the main point here, for many homosexuals argue that they can adopt children. The central point here is what is best in raising them.
The fact is that children are best raised by a mother and father together. In terms of simple human formation, children are best raised with both male and female influences. There are things that a father can say to and model for his children that are properly and best done by a father. Likewise, there are things that a mother can say to and model for her children that are properly and best done by a mother. This is what nature herself provides in linking procreation to both a father and a mother. Situations in which there are two fathers, or two mothers, or just one parent, are not ideal for children. As a rule, it is best for children to be raised in a traditional family setting.
There are times when death or illnesses make the ideal setting impossible. There are exceptional circumstances in which a father or mother is unfit, but in general a traditional heterosexual marriage is the ideal environment for children. It is what nature herself has set forth and, for believers, it is what God has set forth. In cases in which a parent is missing from the family, it is essential for the remaining parent to provide opportunities for children to interact in a proper way with mentors of the missing sex. This can be accomplished with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and the like.
The bottom line is that traditional heterosexual marriage is optimal for children and their human formation. All other arrangements are less than ideal. To the degree possible, children should be raised in the optimal setting that nature and nature’s God have set forth.
When placing children for adoption, married heterosexual couples should have priority over single parents and homosexual couples. This is not bigotry, it is what is best for children. There is typically no difficulty finding homes for infants. Sadly, it is more difficult to find homes for older children, but married heterosexual couples should still generally speaking be favored.
Again, the important thing is what is best for children, not whether certain adults may be offended by perceived bigotry, or whether the approach is politically correct.
3. Traditional, heterosexual marriage should enjoy the favor of law and recognition– One of the great battle lines in the marriage debate has been that married couples enjoy certain favors under law such as tax advantages, inheritance rights, and hospital visitation privileges. Most people see some room for give on these sorts of matters. On a case-by-case basis, it may make some sense to allow, under civil law, a greater ability for Americans to legally enact a wider variety of arrangements for power of attorney, inheritance, and the like.
However, if what is best for children remains our starting point, then it also follows that traditional heterosexual marriage should enjoy some legitimate favors. Strengthening traditional marriage is a worthwhile goal for public policy. Some tax provisions encourage forming and keeping traditional families. Granted, the degree to which such proactive policies should go is debatable. Even among supporters of traditional marriage there are some who have a libertarian view when it comes to any government involvement.
In the end, whether through tax breaks, other laws, or simply through special recognition, a strong support of and advocacy for traditional marriage is proper and good, for whatever strengthens the traditional family is good for children. Whatever we can do as a society to uphold traditional marriage, insist on fidelity, limit divorce, and give special recognition and honor to these families is good for children.
This also is why legal recognition of other types of unions as “marriage” is problematic. To use the same term, “marriage,” both for traditional heterosexual marriage and for gay unions implies an equality that is not true. Gay unions are not on the same footing with traditional marriage because they are not what is best for children. Traditional marriage is what is best for children and it should enjoy an elevated status because of this. Using the same word for the two blurs this and traditional marriage loses the favor it should have and the recognition is it should receive.
That’s enough said for now, but remember the fundamental point: Marriage is essentially about children and what is best for them.When we use the welfare of children as our starting point, it is clear that traditional marriage is proper and best. This starting point challenges not only advocates of gay “marriage” but also sometimes those of traditional marriage, for not all those in traditional marriages have what is best for children in the forefront of their minds either. Too often couples do not work at their marriage to overcome difficulties; many are too quick to rush to divorce court. What is best for children often takes a back seat in our culture.
We are currently reading from the Book of the Prophet Hosea at daily Mass. The story of the Prophet Hosea’s troubled marriage is a powerful testimony to two things: our own tendency to be unfaithful to God, but also of God’s passionate love for us. We do well to recall the story, especially given the “great debate” among some in the Church today over the question of divorce and remarriage. And while there are many painful stories of what some have had to endure in difficult marriages, remember that God is in a very painful marriage with His people—yes, very painful! God knows the pain of a difficult marriage and a difficult spouse. The story of Hosea depicts some of God’s grief and what He chooses to do about it.
The precise details of Hosea’s troubled marriage are sketchy; we are left to fill in some of the details with our imagination. But here are the basic facts along with some “fill in”:
Hosea receives an unusual instruction from God:Go, take a harlot wife and harlot’s children, for the land gives itself to harlotry, turning away from the LORD. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim (Hosea 1:2).
Together they have three children, each with a symbolic name: Jezreel (for God is about to humble Israel in the Jezreel valley), Lo-Ruhama (not pitied), and Lo-Ammi (not my people). It is also possible that these children were not of Hosea but rather of Gomer’s various lovers, for although they are born during the marriage, God later refers to them as children of harlotry.
At some point, though the text does not specify when or under what circumstances, Gomer leaves Hosea for another lover and enters into an adulterous relationship. We can only imagine Hosea’s pain and anger at this rejection. The text remains silent as to Hosea’s reaction, but as we shall see, God’s reaction is well-documented.
Hosea takes her back. After an unspecified period of time, God instructs Hosea, Give your love to a woman beloved of a paramour, an adulteress; Even as the LORD loves the people of Israel, though they turn to other gods and are fond of raisin cakes (Hosea 3:1). Now while the quoted text does not clearly specify that this is the same woman he is to love, the overall context of chapters 1-3 of Hosea demand that this is the same unfaithful wife, Gomer. God tells Hosea to redeem, to buy back, Gomer and re-establish his marital bonds with her.
Hosea has to pay a rather hefty price indeed to purchase Gomer back from her paramour: So I bought her for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley (Hosea 3:2). The willingness of her paramour to “sell her back” indicates quite poetically that the apparent love of the world and of all false lovers is not real love at all. It is for sale to the highest bidder.
Prior to restoring her to any intimacy, a period of purification and testing will be necessary:Then I said to her: “Many days you shall wait for me; you shall not play the harlot Or belong to any man; I in turn will wait for you” (Hosea 3:3).
This story is both difficult and beautiful. Its purpose, as you likely know, is not merely to tell us of the troubled and painful marriage of Hosea. Its truer purpose is to show forth the troubled marriage of the Lord, who has a bride—a people—who are unfaithful to Him. We, both collectively and individually, have entered into a (marital) covenant with God. Our vows were pronounced at our baptism and we renewed them on many other occasions.
But all too often we casually “sleep with” other gods and worldly paramours. Perhaps it is money, popularity, possessions, or power. Perhaps we have forsaken God for our careers, politics, philosophies, or arts and sciences. Some have outright left God; others keep two or more beds, still speaking of their love for God but involved with many other dalliances as well. Yes, this is a troubled marriage, not on God’s part, but surely on ours.
And through it all, what does God decide to do? In the end, as Hosea’s story illustrates, God chooses to redeem, to buy back, his bride—and at quite a cost: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Peter 3:19-20). Yes, God paid dearly to draw us back to Him. And yet still we stray and often show little appreciation of His love. An old Gospel song says, “Oh Lord I’ve sinned but you’re still calling my name.”
A deeper look into the story of Hosea reveals a view into the grieving heart of God. Reading these Old Testament passages requires a bit of sophistication. The text we are about to look at describes God as grieving, angry, and weighing out His options; but it also shows Him as loving and almost romantic. On one level, we must remember that these attributes are applied to God in an analogical and metaphorical sense. Although God is said to be like this, He is not angry the way we are angry. He does not grieve the way we do; He is not romantic the way we are. Although we see these texts in terms of analogy and metaphor, we cannot wholly set them aside as having no meaning. In some sense, God is grieving, angry, loving, and even “romantic” in response to our wanderings. Exactly how He experiences these is mysterious to us but He does choose to use these metaphors to describe Himself to us.
With this balanced caution, let’s take a look at excerpts from the second chapter of Hosea, in which God decodes the story of Hosea and applies it to us. He describes to us His grieving heart as well as His plan of action to win back His lover and bride.
Thoughts of Divorce!Protest against your mother, protest! for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband.The text suggests that God is weighing His options. But perhaps the better explanation is that this line is for us readers, so that we will consider that God could rightfully divorce us. But as we will see, He will not do that. For although we break the covenant, He will not. Though we are unfaithful, God will not be unfaithful.If we are unfaithful he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).
The bitter charge against her – Let her remove her harlotry from before her, her adultery from between her breasts … “I will go after my lovers,” she said, “who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” Since she has not known that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, And her abundance of silver, and of gold, which they used for Baal.God’s charge here is not merely that we are unfaithful but also that we are ungrateful. God is the giver of every good thing. But so often we do not thank Him. We run after the world and after the powerful, thinking it is they who provide our wealth. They do not—it is God who does so. But instead we love the world and forget about God. We “sleep with” the world. We give credit to medicine, science, and human ingenuity, but do not acknowledge or thank God. Our ingratitude contributes to our harlotry, for we are enamored of secondary causes and not of God, who is the cause of all. So we get into bed with the world and its agenda, and adulterously unite ourselves with it. God is distressed by our ingratitude and adultery and is presented here as a wounded and jealous lover. Is God a wounded and jealous lover? Remember these things are said by way of analogy and metaphor. God is neither hurt nor angered by the way we are. And yet we cannot wholly dismiss these words as having no meaning. God has inspired this text and wants us to understand that although He is not passionate as we are, neither is He indifferent to our infidelity.
Grief-stricken but issuing purifying punishment – I will strip her naked, leaving her as on the day of her birth; I will make her like the desert, reduce her to an arid land, and slay her with thirst. I will have no pity on her children, for they are the children of harlotry. Yes, their mother has played the harlot; she that conceived them has acted shamefully. … I will lay bare her shame before the eyes of her lovers. … I will bring an end to all her joy, her feasts, her new moons, her sabbaths, and all her solemnities. … I will punish her for the days of the Baals, for whom she burnt incense. … If she runs after her lovers, she shall not overtake them; if she looks for them she shall not find them. This text could be seen as describing God in a jealous rage. But as we shall see, God has a result in mind. He does not punish as some uncontrolled despot exacting revenge. He punishes as medicine. He punishes as one who loves and seeks to restore. We are not sinners in the hands of an angry God; we are sinners in the hands of a loving God who seeks reunion.
The hoped-for result – Then she shall say, “I will go back to my first husband, for it was better with me then than now.”God’s intent was to bring His bride back to sanity, to bring her to a place where she is ready to seek union once again. For without this union she will perish, but with it she will be united with the only one who ever loved her and who can save her.
Passionate lover – So I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart. From there I will give her the vineyards she had, and the valley of Achor as a door of hope. She shall respond there as in the days of her youth, when she came up from the land of Egypt. On that day, says the LORD, She shall call me “My husband,” and never again “My baal.” Then will I remove from her mouth the names of the Baals, so that they shall no longer be invoked.See how God wants to get alone with His bride and woo her once again! God will speak lovingly to her heart and declare again His love for her in a kind of Marriage Encounter She, now repentant and devoted, will renew her love as well. There is also an image of purgatory or purgation here. It is likely that when we die we will still have some attachments to “former lovers” in this world: creature comforts, power, pride, misplaced priorities, and the like. So as we die, God lures us into the desert of purgatory, speaks to our heart, and cleanses us of our final attachments. After this He restores to us the vineyards of paradise that once were ours.
Renewed Covenant – I will make a covenant for them on that day. … I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD. … and I will have pity on Lo-ruhama. I will say to Lo-ammi, “You are my people,” and he shall say, “My God!”God renews the marriage bond with us, both corporately in the Church and individually!
Here, then, is the astonishing, undying, and pursuing love of God for His bride, the Church, and for each of us individually. After all our whoring and infidelity, we do not deserve it. But God is a passionate lover. As He commanded Hosea to buy back his adulterous wife, so too did God buy us back at a high price. Now to be sure, God did not pay Satan. Rather, the payment He rendered was an indication of the high sacrifice He had to make to win back our hearts. We had wandered far and He had to journey far and then carry us back.
I am not here to render a personal judgment on those who have struggled to save a marriage but were unable to do so. Rather, my purpose is to reach those who are currently struggling, striving to persevere, so that you realize that God knows your pain—he too experiences it from us, time and time again. Yet each day He renews His covenant with us and offers us mercy. If it helps to realize that God knows your pain, please understand that He does. In the words of the old spiritual, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen, nobody knows but Jesus.”