In studying Hosea this past spring at Trinity, it was hard for many of us. The constant language of judgment seems to take on a life of its own, and as gospel people, on this side of the cross and resurrection, we think, “What’s the point?”
I came across this passage in the scripture readings for Lent (found here): “My flesh trembles for fear of you, and I am afraid of your judgments.” Psalm 119:120.
The difficulty of the language around judgment in Hosea and other prophets lies for many not in the fact that it’s there, but in the continual, repetitive nature of it. “Okay, I get it,” we say. But that seems to be the point. The repetition is meant to drive into us a remembrance (because we so easily forget!), as it was Israel at the time, the nature of God’s holiness and the healthy level of fear this should invoke.
God is the great Lion as well as the Lamb. We hold the two in tension in our minds, and yet, there really is no tension. It’s because of His love and the value He places on His own glory above all things that drives Him to execute judgment. It’s right for Him to do so. This is the rub of judgment illustrated in the Old Testament, considering how graphically violent it could be: God being right in his judgment. It’s that aspect of God as a Lion that as God’s people we don’t have to fear (yes!). And yet, as the passage in Psalm 119 illustrates, there is something right and good in the fact that we still have this great, trembling, respectful fear of God in His judgments. We should be afraid of His judgments! We should feel the weight of that, not to a point of morbid self-introspection, but to a point of repentance: that is turning away from that which God hates to embrace Christ as Savior and deliverer from that very sin.
It’s uncomfortable to consider God’s holiness and resulting judgment, and it’s particularly in this discomfort that we should learn to hate our sin, the offense of it toward God Himself. How do our affections and loves for other things, even good things, more than God, drive us away from being near to Him? Because that’s ultimately the end goal of our salvation: knowing and being near God Himself, an intimate relationship unlike any other, even beyond marriage.
Considering the judgment and holiness of God should bring us to an end of ourselves as we look within and consider the ways we’re not unlike Israel during Hosea’s time, despairing of any hope from within us. It’s this state of spiritual poverty, looking at and rightly apprehending our lostness (and even after having been saved needing this constant rescue from the power of our sin everyday) where Christ creates an abundance when we turn from ourselves and even our despair at what we see in ourselves to rather actively embrace Christ. We’re united to Him in His life, death and resurrection, and He intercedes for us at this very moment. In Christ, we have the Father’s smile, apart from Him, we have merely a “fearful expectation of judgment” (Hebrews 10:27). “Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness” (Romans 11:22). It is this reality that drives us to Him, even in the midst of exploring the greatness of His judgments and what should have been ours apart from His intervention.