God said what?
"Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see!
Where have you not been ravished?
By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers
like an Arab in the wilderness.
You have polluted the land
with your vile whoredom."
Here, speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God chastises his people. And he does so in a way that many church folk (or anyone) might find offensive. He calls them whores.
Coming across this as I read in my devotions this morning did not exactly bring a case of the warm fuzzies to my heart. It called me out, forcing me to look at the sin in my life, and it furthermore reminded me that this is not an uncommon use of language for God. The use of marriage and sexual metaphor to explain the covenant relationship of God to his people, and the way in which his people violate that covenant, is found throughout the Scriptures. Ezekiel 16 being perhaps the most notable case. There God explains his calling of Israel unto himself, adorning her and loving her, cherishing her. It then goes on to detail her pride in the beauty that God gave her, and her clamoring in lust after other suitors. In verses 30-33, God puts it this way,
"How sick is your heart, declares the Lord God, because you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen prostitute, building your vaulted chamber at the head of every street, and making your lofty place in every square. Yet you were not like the prostitute, because you scorned payment. Adulterous wife, who receives strangers instead of her husband! Men give gifts to all prostitutes, but you gave your gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from every side in your whorings."
This is shocking language for a loving God to use toward his people, is it not? I want to ask two questions. First, why would God use startling and potentially offensive language to address his people? Second, why would God use this particular sort of offensive language?
Why so blunt?
I believe the reason God uses such blunt and bold language in addressing sin is quite simple: he loves us. Romans 3:23 tells us that the wage sin earns is death, and thus to continue in sin means one thing: death. Eternal, conscious, tormented, damnation in hell. That simple.
If God is love (1 John 4:8), and that love is directed toward the world (John 3:16), is it unreasonable then to assume that God would tell us that our actions are going to kill us? Furthermore, is it not obvious that in response to our pig-headed rejection of this fact (Romans 1:18-19), some severe language may be necessary to communicate the point? The short version in this: God is honest with people in the Bible, and through the Bible is honest with us, because our sin is damning, and he desires all men to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). Can't be saved if you don't know you need it.
Why does God use this particular metaphor in relation to our rebellion and sin? Because marriage and sex are themselves designed as metaphor. In Ephesians five Paul explains that the union of a man and a woman in marriage, and the “one flesh” sexual, emotional, and spiritual union that is a part of that, are designed ultimately to display the love of Christ and his church. Which means that when God calls Israel "whores", he does not mean that our sin is simply like whoring, but rather, our sin is whoring in the truest sense of the word. That revulsion you feel when a woman is loved by her husband and yet offers herself to other men is pointing to something deeper than her just physical adultery, as bad as that may be. It speaks of a spiritual whoring which is more revolting than anything you have ever experienced or could imagine.
This is the whoring we are all guilty of.
We don't want to admit this, or deal with it. It feels icky. It is icky. And we need to realize this. We need it held before us that our sin is whoring, and even our good works are as dirty tampons (Is 64:6). We need Jesus. We need the loving husband who pursues and pursues, to the point of laying down his life for his bride (see Ephesians 5, as well as Hosea 1-3). We are lost without him.