Gracing the Disgraced

For whatever reason, God has nudged me into remembering recently. Remembering who I used to be, remembering just how far I had fallen. It’s easy, when you’ve walked with Jesus for a time, to forget just how bad you were. After all, we’ve been saved by the grace of God, chosen and adopted and blessed. But in that ease of being, that surety of position, sometimes we slip into ownership. Sometimes we forget that He rescued us, not that we decided to come to Him. I can imagine some reading this and thinking they’ve never forgotten that it was Jesus who redeemed them. Haven’t you? Are you sure? Have you walked with Him long enough that you’ve forgotten the decisions you used to make? Have you put your past so far behind you that you almost feel like you’ve always been this way? How much distance is there between your past and your present? It’s easy to keep the “saved by grace” phrase on your tongue, but easier still to let it become lip service.

As I mentioned, God has chosen to remind me of my past. Not in a condemning way, far from it. But (it occurs to me now) I had said to Him recently that nothing seemed to be touching my heart right now, that I felt shuttered and closed off, and I asked Him to pierce my spirit, renew me. This is how He chose to do that. I’m overwhelmed and thankful beyond words that He would listen to me, answer me, and answer in just this way. He is so loving.

I have long known the story of Hosea and Gomer, but it wasn’t until I heard a somewhat modern dramatization of it that it really came home to me. Thank you to Lisa Harper for bringing this story into my reality and enabling me to see it personally.

Her name is Gomer. Gomer the prostitute. Gomer the disgraced. Gomer, the one on the slave block, naked and humiliated, who knows she is the one who has put herself there. Gomer was chosen to be the wife of Hosea, an upright man of high morals and soft heart before Jehovah. What a disparity in itself. Gomer, the harlot, the one every man “knew” already, the damaged and disgraced, the mocked and scorned, taken as wife by Hosea, the one whom everyone regarded highly.

Marriage is a serious business, and in that culture, fidelity in marriage was demanded, and infidelity (by the woman) was punished severely. The woman who strayed was to be stoned. I can imagine the horror of the townspeople when they realized that Hosea had taken to wife someone who had already been promiscuous; his expectations of fidelity were doomed. I’m quite sure that many people thought Hosea had lost his mind. Probably Gomer did too.

Then again, Gomer could have maybe thought Hosea was pretty stupid for wanting to marry her, but hey, why not. She’d use him till she got tired of him then go on to something else. I wonder if his kindness touched her damaged heart, or if the damage was so severe that even kindness was repulsive.

The fact that Hosea knew what kind of woman she was before he married her, knew that she would continue to be that woman after the marriage, and married her anyway just blows me away. He was faithful to what Jehovah had called him to do. He had children with her. At least one was his, possibly two of the three. But the third was not. What a blow that must have been. To have incontrovertible proof of her infidelity.

She left him, running away to other lovers, other lives. Anything to fill the hole in her heart. She left her children. She left the comfort of her home with Hosea. Perhaps it was too restrictive for her wild personality. Perhaps Hosea’s goodness was too hard to live up to. Perhaps the desires and needs that drove her became too much for her to hide. So she left.

We don’t know much about what happened to her in between the leaving and the next time we see her. I can surmise, though. It was probably fun for a while. Parties and orgies and pleasure galore. Entirely self-centered, fulfilling every wish and appetite. Happy to not be under Hosea’s thumb anymore, under his restrictions, his nauseating goodness. Happy that she could indulge herself with whatever she wanted.

I wonder if thoughts of her husband and children crept into her mind from time to time. I wonder if, in a weak and low moment, she would sit and wonder what the kids were doing, what Hosea was doing. If they missed her. I’m sure the next thought would have been “of course not!” They couldn’t miss her, she wasn’t worth missing. They had gone on about their lives and forgotten her. Justifiably, if she was honest with herself. They were much better off without her.

Somewhere, somehow, along the way she began to lose. It wasn’t as fun anymore. It was tiresome, wearying. There were still demands on her and she thought she’d left all those behind. She began to harden her heart. Yes the thoughts of her former life would creep in and she would steel herself against them. Because it was painful now to think of them and impossible to go back. That door was forever closed to her.

The money had run out. No one was paying her bills anymore. She’d been kicked out of every home and hovel she’d run to. She’d sold herself over and over for fun and pleasure, and now no one was buying. She was used goods, damaged beyond repair.

She had one last option left to her in the culture she lived in. She could be done with all of life and just sell herself as a slave. Eventually she came to the conclusion that she had no choice. Starved and filthy, all hope gone, she delivered herself to the slave trader and gave up.

There on the slave block, stripped naked for all men to see, exposed, humiliated, demoralized, despairing and desperate, she had to have closed in on herself. It wasn’t really happening, it was a nightmare that she’d awaken from surely. Or it was, and it was inevitable, and nothing she could do would stop it. She would experience pain and hardship and misery for as long as she lived, would be used and abused for the rest of her existence. Hosea likely never entered her mind. That was long over, the door to that life slammed shut and barred.

But then came his voice. I wonder if the sound of it pierced the shell around her heart. If she flinched. I wonder if she looked up. If she met his gaze and what she saw there. I wonder if she saw his goodness, his kindness reflected in his eyes. I wonder if she could name the love that shone out of them. She was standing naked and dirty and humiliated, and he was so clean and good and right.

He bought her back. He paid the price and bought her back from slavery. He whom she had left, had shamed and humiliated by her infidelity. He who had already paid for her in the bride price. He bought her back. He paid for her again. She didn’t ask him to. She didn’t get word to him and ask him to please come to the auction and buy her back. She had closed that door and would not have dared to reach out to him again. But he came. And he bought her back.

Call me Gomer. Call me disgraced, filthy, humiliated. A slave, and one who had sold herself into it. On the slave block, finally aware of the desperation of my circumstances, unable to convince myself anymore that everything was fine, it would all be okay. Finally facing the truth that my own actions and choices had put me there. Finally acknowledging how desperately unhappy I was and that I had no hope of anything changing.

Then Jesus called me. He called my name through the voices and the chaos. “I’ll buy her!” He could see my miserable wretched state, and he knew that I had put myself there. But He bought me anyway. He picked me up off the slave block, wrapped His own cloak around me, and took me home to tend to my wounds. He cleaned me up, bandaged me, spoon fed me for as long as it took. He washed my hair and my skin and soothed the cuts and bruises with His own balm. He tended to me. He mended my heart. And this time, His goodness and mercy and grace and love touched that deep place in me and healed it.

I have not the words to express to Him just how much what He has done for me means to me. I have not the words to tell others of His goodness and mercy. I hear those who say He’s too good, too perfect to live up to. I see others dismiss Him and dishonor Him and attempt to discredit Him. It hurts, because I know how He loves me. I know how good He is. I know that He bought me back from my own mess. I know that He cleaned me up, that He redeemed me to Himself. That He took me back after I had run from Him. That He came looking for me even when I refused to call on Him. That when I finally turned to meet His gaze, there was nothing but compassion and deep, deep love in it. He did not shame me. He did not condemn me. Oh I was wretched! I was so dirty and had abused His love for me so badly! I had dismissed Him and mocked Him and turned my back on His ways and His truth and His love. Yet He loved me still.

Call me Gomer. And I will smile at the name. Because yes, I was the disgraced who was given grace.

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