Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Hosea 2) transports me forward in time to the annual conference of the Baptist Peace Fellowship this coming summer in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where the theme is “So You Must Forgive.” I’ll be leading the music for the camp, so for several weeks I’ve been listening to various songs and hymns that speak in some way to our need to forgive one another. I’m amazed at how few hymns and gospel songs speak directly to the topic, and how many rock and pop songs do. The hymns often give lofty expression to the gracious forgiveness God grants us and the wideness in God’s mercy, but rarely do they speak of our need to forgive each other. A myriad of rock and pop songs, on the other hand, give practical expression to the oftentimes difficult and might’ nigh impossible work of forgiving the injuries we experience in the most intimate of relationships. My workout music on the IPod now has a collection of Sarah McLaughlin, Elton John, Don Henley, the Moldy Peaches, U2, Chicago, and George Harrison, all singing about the hard work of forgiveness in broken relationships. Listen to some of the lines:
When you ask for forgiveness, you’re asking too much, I have sheltered my heart in a place you can’t touch.
It’s a sad, sad situation when sorry seems to be the hardest word.
I’ve been trying to get back to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter but I think it’s about forgiveness, even if you don’t love me anymore.
The pebbles forgive me, the trees forgive me, so why can’t you forgive me?
Have you come here for forgiveness? Have you come to raise the dead? Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head? . . .We’re one, but we’re not the same, well, we hurt each other, and we do it again.
Hold me now, it’s hard for me to say I’m sorry. After all that we’ve been through, I will make it up to you.
I should hate you, but I love you, you’ve got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.
I think the prophet Hosea would have resonated more with songs like these than with the lofty gospel songs. His story is a parable of family broken-ness, intended to paint a picture of the broken-ness we experience with God. But since the transcendent God is essentially “unfamiliar” to us, the prophet used a “familiar” story – his own family story, a story of his and his wife’s own path from dis-grace to grace, to illustrate what forgiveness looks and feels like in our relationship with God. Hosea knew firsthand the deep hurt and injury infidelity causes, and he knew the depth of mercy required to mend those wounds. The passage today reveals a depth of pain and shame that led to even deeper experiences of grace, as mercy ultimately triumphs over judgment.
Hosea knew what we know on a daily basis: Family is the primary practice field for forgiveness, for truth and reconciliation work. Most of the other prophetic literature deals with the need for peacemaking and forgiveness on a grand scale, in theatres of war and social injustice and international conflict. But before we can expect to reconcile with enemies across great divides, we have to learn to reconcile with loved ones across dinner tables. Despite what they told us in Love Story, we do sometimes have to say we’re sorry to those we love the most. We have to learn the language of grace-filled forgiveness. The pop song lyrics teach us that it is difficult work. The prophetic poetry teaches us that it is possible.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Forgiveness.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.