Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Wooing in the Desert July 12, 2012

Filed under: Hosea — Stephanie Rische @ 5:27 pm
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  Picture this: It’s the third century AD, and the persecution that has plagued Christians for hundreds of years has finally lifted. For the first time in the history of the Roman Empire, it’s safe to be a Christian. After an era marked by torture and martyrdom, those who follow Jesus are being welcomed into society.


You’d think that on the heels of such persecution, Christ-followers would bask in their newfound freedom and the comfort of being able to live their lives in peace. But shockingly, it was out of that positive cultural shift that the monastic movement was born. The Desert Fathers (and Mothers), as they were called, went into the Egyptian wilderness not to avoid a difficult situation but to avoid one that was too comfortable.


In my chronological Bible, I just read the heart-wrenching love story of Hosea and his relentless love for his wife, Gomer. She cheats on him again and again, but he keeps taking her back, pursuing her and wooing her back, knowing even as he does that she’ll reject him for lesser loves as soon as the opportunity presents itself.


The story is outrageous, flying in the face of everything I deem just and right and fair. I find myself wanting to shout some sense into Hosea across the pages of Scripture—Why would a nice guy like you keep taking back this woman who is clearly not good enough for you? But I’m barely into the story when it becomes clear that this isn’t just an account about a long-dead prophet. It’s about how God’s people have “acted like a prostitute by turning against the Lord and worshiping other gods” (Hosea 1:2).


That cheating woman is me.


I have found true love in God, yet I give my heart to unworthy substitutes: Comfort. Security. The stuff of this world. The approval of others. People and things that aren’t meant to step into the role only God can fill in my heart.


But here’s where the beautiful part comes in. Hosea doesn’t wait for his fickle bride to come back to him, groveling for forgiveness. No, he pursues her, using every courting trick in the book to win her back. And God does the same for his people, for his bride. For me.


The Lord says…

“I will win her back once again.

I will lead her into the desert

and speak tenderly to her there.”

—Hosea 2:14


At first the desert strikes me as an odd choice for wooing. It doesn’t have quite the romantic appeal of, say, a candlelight dinner or a walk along the beach. Why would God do his courting in the desert?


But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the Desert Fathers were onto something. Maybe when you’re in the wilderness, it’s easier to have an honest talk about your relationship. In the desert, life moves at a slower pace. You have limited creature comforts. Less noise. Fewer distractions. And maybe then, in the uncomfortable quiet, you can sit down and really talk. Maybe then, you can pause long enough to hear the words your beloved is tenderly speaking to you.


Abba Cronius, one of the Desert Fathers, put it this way: “If the soul is vigilant and withdraws from all distraction and abandons its own will, then the spirit of God invades it.”


If you find yourself in the desert right now, consider this: What if the desert isn’t a punishment after all? What if the desert is a place where there’s finally room for the One who loves you to invade your heart, your soul?


What if the desert is actually the best place to be wooed?


{Note: If you want to find out more about the Desert Fathers and how they make sense in today’s world, I highly recommend the book Holy Fools by Mathew Woodley.}

I’ve taken the challenge of reading the Bible chronologically this year and tracing the thread of grace through it. These musings are prompted by my reading. I’d love to have you join me: One Year Bible reading plan.