Wednesday, June 10, 2015

What's in a name?

"How would you like to sign your checks with that name: No Love. No Mercy?"

My pastor's hypothetical question was met with a smattering of laughs Sunday morning, but mine did not join the others. We were reading from Hosea when God instructs Hosea to marry Gomer, a known prostitute. Hosea does what he is asked and chapter 1 records three births to the family; the language suggests that one of them did not belong to Hosea. Ignoring that fact for just a second, the names that God gives to Hosea for his children are terrible: Jezreel (a city known for punishment and destruction), Lo-ruhamah (no compassion, no mercy; also, not loved), and Lo-ammi (not mine). I know, pretty weird names, right? But names held a little more importance in ancient times than they do today. They could speak about the condition or reaction to your birth (or conception, in Isaac's case) or the family to which you belong. Sometimes family names were passed down to first born sons (remember how John the Baptist was almost called Zechariah?). Other names of course, like Jesus, came from divine revelation.

The Lord gave Hosea specific instructions on what to name his children. It was like he said, "Give them names to show my people how far they have turned from me. I want to make this so clear to them that they can't miss what I'm doing." The whole book of Hosea is a parable fleshed out to show the Israelites that they had turned from God, that things would be hard because of their sin but that God would pursue them for the sake of love and redemption and that He would never give up on them.

Amidst the laughter around me, my heart broke a little. I understand, at least in part, what God was getting at in the story. By chapter three, we see promise of redemption, not only of Gomer but also of her children. God promises to reclaim his people: instead of a land of destruction and harshness, the land will be plentiful; instead of a people who have not been able to find love or compassion, He will show compassion and love toward them; instead of being called "not mine," He will claim them as His people. But it still hurts to have your God given name be "not loved."

Which brings us back to the question my pastor posed to us that morning: how would you like to sign your name "no love"?

I couldn't laugh at his joke because we do this to ourselves.  We name ourselves "not loved" and insist on living life with that weight, even though redemption has been offered to us. We focus on our (perceived) deficiencies and short comings, keeping a running tally of our failures next to our coffee pot so we are sure to see them every day. We add addendum to our new name: not loved because I'm fat, not loved because I'm skinny, not loved because I'm depressed, not loved because I'm stupid.
I think it's interesting that Lo-ruhamah had no qualifiers. There wasn't anything she did to deserve the name. So when her redemption comes, she is called "loved" with no qualifications. Not because of anything she has done or left undone, she is called "loved" by God because that was His goal all along. 

One of the last points Pastor Tim made on Sunday was that God does not love us because of who we are or what we do; he loves us because of who He is and in spite of what we do. From the very beginning, even as early as Genesis 3, redemption has been His game. We get hints and promises of a Messiah almost before the fruit has a chance to turn brown. Even with the stories in the Old Testament of the Israelites turning away from God, there is still promise of redemption. Isaiah 42 has prophecy about the coming Messiah with astonishing detail. Every time I see it, I am amazed. This isn't just a way to fix a plot hole or a temporary story arc. This is THE PLAN from the beginning.

I suffer from self-naming the same way that you do. I pull my failures out of the past, dust them off and give them a place of prominence in my present. I see my deficiencies in the mirror every day and examine them closely before leaving the house, keeping them in the forefront of my mind as I go about my day.

And you know what?

It's exhausting.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about Lo-ruhamah and her redemption. I've gone back to Hosea and read the passage again, looking for a key to understanding God's love, redemption, and plan in the story. Maybe it's there if I look hard enough. Maybe looking is part of understanding. Maybe just believing that we are worth more than our names, more than our actions, worth something just because is the first step to really understanding.

Try it on, just for today. Call yourself "loved" and remind yourself that you are more than your imperfections. Not because you are perfect or better than anyone else, but because God says you are loved and because He made you for more.