I cared more about sticking to my Bible plan and hosting events than listening to rebukings the Holy Spirit pressed upon my heart. I was calloused to the idea that my religion was not a relationship.
I'm not sure about you, but when I think of God, I sometimes have a challenging time viewing our relationship as one of true friendship and adoration. While I got saved as a small girl, I have often forsaken the belief that God loves me as I am in exchange for the lie that I have to make Him love me more.
When I was twelve, I became an anxious girl paralyzed by religious cliches. While the chaos of my family crumbled around me, I started to fear everything. I feared I must do things perfectly or face the consequences if I didn't. I put constraints and rules and regulations on myself like a Pharisee. I started using second-measure standards that only applied to myself, grinding myself into ashes from the weight it took to live this lifestyle.
By the time I was twenty-one, I had forgotten the genuine relationship God offers each of us and forsaken it for the deception of perfection. Coated in an obsession with exercise, food, and holiness, I cared more about sticking to my Bible plan and hosting events than listening to rebukings the Holy Spirit pressed upon my heart. I was calloused to the idea that my religion was not a relationship.
Because somewhere between getting saved and growing up, I started to believe lies that would rob me of the fullness of joy Christ alone brings.
-I started to believe I needed to prove myself and my worth to God.
-I began to live with the mantra that if I wasn't perfect, I wouldn't be worthy of love.
-My mind developed the confidence that if I sought control over every situation, control would be handed over to me.
-My heart formed the idea that my sins were more socially acceptable than the sins of others around me.
-My eyes believed that if I sought holiness, religion, order, and law, I would be righteous.
I still struggle with these beliefs today.
I still toil to understand how a man I've never even seen would choose to die on a cross for me.
I baffle at the concept that no matter how many times I run towards something else to fill the God-shaped hole only He can fill, Jesus runs after me every single time.
Yet I know I am not the only one.
Hosea and Gomer; Michael and Angel
In the recent hit film and known novel, Redeeming Love, Francine River's compelling story speaks of God's incomparable and unfathomable love. Through the book of Hosea, Francine makes a stark comparison between Michael Hosea, a small farmer boy, and Angel, the famous town prostitute. Representative of Hosea and Gomer, the plot as a whole creates a young couple's struggles to find and understand love during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s.
As a child, Sarah (Angel) watched her momma pray her prayers and sell her body when her father Alex took everything away from them. After her mother's death, she was forced into prostitution by Duke, a greedy man who took Sarah as his own. Unlike a good father, however, the only thing Duke wanted from Sarah was to make her his own little money-making, seductively appealing Angel.
By the time Angel grows up, she believes that this lifestyle is God's will for her life if there even is a God. And she certainly doesn't know what to do when Michael Hosea starts paying off her lottery winners just to chat with her. She is appalled that a good-looking, kind-hearted man doesn't want anything from her, but to give her the life she deserves.
After countless attempts and a horrific turn of events, Micahel rescues Angel, only to have her abandon him time and time again for her old way of life. It is as if she cannot accept the life he longs to give her because she is scared to see life any other way. Her prison has become a sanctuary, and when freedom is offered to her, it becomes a jail cell.
But aren't we all in a sense Angel? Aren't we all guilty of prostitution? Aren't we all condemned for running to someone and something instead of the One who called us His own and formed us in our mother's womb?
Because when God called Hosea to marry and love Gomer, or Michael Hosea with Angel, He was revealing to fallen Israel His love for her.
Angel believed she was not worthy of love. She believed all a man wanted from her was her innocence. She lived a life that she thought she had to live because, in her family, that was the way things always had to be. She thought she knew everything about a God that let her momma die, and if that was God's truth, then she wanted nothing to do with it.
While I will not pretend to understand Angel or Gomer's circumstances, and I will not attempt to comprehend yours, I do know that Satan is a mastermind at deceiving the redeeming love God freely offers to each of us.
Whether it be living in a messy family, being forced into prostitution, choosing to watch porn, or falling to the temptation of addiction, to name a few, the Devil wants us to believe that we are not worthy of love. He wants us to accept that God's love is out of reach because we will never be able to measure up or prove our value.
But if God can call Hosea to love Gomer, Michael to love Angel, and His Church to love Christ, don't you think He knows how to endlessly love and pursue you?
God did not call Hosea to love a prostitute because He wanted to punish a good man. God called Hosea to love a prostitute because that is how He loves each of us.
No matter what we run to or try to prove our worth by doing, He is the Shepherd tending to the lost sheep that run away. Christ is the perfect love that casts out every fear and doubt you have about your worth. Jesus is the One calling your name in redemption, longing, chasing, and waiting to love you.
"I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you" (Isaiah 44:22, New International Version).
After three years, Angel returns to Michael Hosea because his brother-in-law Paul tells her Michael is still waiting for her return. Baffled, Angel asks him why Michael didn't marry the neighbor girl Miriam she told him to marry.
"He's waiting for you, Angel. He always has, and he always will," Paul replies.
"My name is Sarah," Angel tells Michael, standing face-to-face with Michael. "And I am so, so, sorry," she notes as tears beam down her cheek.
"Welcome home," Michael soothes softly.
"How can I not forgive you after all I've been forgiven? This is the life I want to give you, Sarah; a place to call home," he retorts.
Because Michael is God, and we are Angel turned Sarah's.
He welcomes us back.
He calls us home.
He offers us redeeming love.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Carolyn Ann Ryan
Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
Video credit: ©RhondaStoppe/SWN