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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Eco-Theology: Hosea 2.


            The book of the prophet Hosea uses an extended metaphor about marriage and adultery to talk about the relationship between God and the people.  In chapter 2, the woman (Israel) fails to recognize her true husband (God) and instead runs after and gives herself to imposters (other gods, mainly Baal). 
            
She mistakenly believes that these imposters are her benefactors.  “I will go after my lovers; they give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.” (v.5)  The problem is that she attributes her prosperity to the wrong powers.  She becomes devoted to them at the expense of the One who really gave these things to her.  This is not just a matter of religious devotion; it has to do with how one behaves and lives in every area of life.  To follow Baal is to adopt a radically different lifestyle from following God. 
            
But the real source of the people’s wealth is God, even though people attribute their wealth to other sources.  “She did not know that it was I (God) who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her the silver and gold that they used for Baal.”  (v.8) 
            
When people make the claim that our system, our economy, the Empire, or our own hard work and discipline is the source of our wealth, we are mistaken.  God is the One “from whom all blessings flow.”  These benefits carry with them a responsibility to use them in service to God by spreading them out to all, and by not using them in violence or oppression, and by not gaining wealth by unjust or destructive means in the first place. 
            
When we attribute our prosperity to our own prevailing economic system, even some fantasized God-blessed version of it, we are denying God’s generosity and blessing.  An economy characterized by greed, avarice, lust, and gluttony necessarily leads to all kinds of economic inequalities.  It inevitably falls into injustice and violence.
            
The cost of this error is severe.  Idolatry always leads to social injustice.  And social injustice always brings down upon it some kind of disaster.  “Therefore, I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season; and I will take away my wool and my flax.” (v.9)  “I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my pay, which my lovers have given me.’  I will make them a forest and the wild animals shall devour them.” (v.12) 

Famine is one result of our misattributing God’s benefits to other powers.  Not because God capriciously or arbitrarily punishes, but because loyalty to other gods creates massive social inequities and imbalances which have consequences.  Resources are distributed poorly and unequally; they are wasted and exhausted irresponsibly.   
            
Following God’s law, and the teachings of Jesus, means putting a brake on unrestrained economic growth.  It means regulating and restricting the flow of capital.  It means redistribution of wealth. (Leviticus 25.)  It means lifting up the poor and bringing down the rich. (Luke 1.)  
            
All of this is the opposite of religions that worship economic growth per se, as in fertility cults and other imperial religious systems, like that of Baal.  These systems are designed not to create equality between people, not to cultivate a commonwealth, but to prop up the wealthy class and make them richer still.  They rationalized wars to go out and conquer more land to generate more wealth.  It was the system the people escaped from in Egypt where they were made slaves, and they never forgot the indignity and horror of that.  God gives them the law so they would never fall into that system of injustice again.
            
But they did.  Which is what Hosea is so upset about.  Throughout the Scriptures we find the same pattern repeated: idolatry leads to injustice which leads to disaster. 
            
Hosea also reminds us that God remains faithful.  God is always there to pick up the pieces.   “Therefore, I will now allure her and bring her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.  From there I will give her her vineyards….  There she will respond as in the days of her youth as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.  On that day, says the Lord, you will call me ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal (which means My Master)’.” (vv.14-16)  Even God insists on not participating in the domination and inequality that characterizes Baal worship, but desires to be more of a partner! 
            
“I will make for you a covenant on that day with the wild animals, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety.” (v.18)  The people are brought back into natural relationships, and militarism, always the sour fruit of a domination-based economy which has spawned injustice, is eliminated.
            
Real prosperity in justice and balance and equality according to God’s law is restored. (vv.21-23)  
            
Baal worship was a religion of unrestrained economic growth which created great inequities and required increasing levels of violence, both internal and external, to sustain itself.  Sound familiar?  The answer God gives is the thorough regulatory and redistributive regime of the Torah, finally fulfilled in Jesus Christ. 

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