Summary: The more intimate a relationship is, the more certain we are to experience the worst side of a spouse, child, parent, friend... Jesus loved--and yes, loves--us at our worst, and beckons us to be his ambassadors by doing the same for others.
LOVING OTHERS AT THEIR WORST
I. Introduction - Not long ago I read the story of a man who came to love a woman named Helen, who was a drug addict. She was living with an abusive man who supplied her drugs and in return used her for his pleasure. But another man, an honest and virtuous man, learned of her plight and brought her out of her awful circumstances. He bought appropriate clothes and other necessities, and made arrangements for her to live with an elderly lady he had befriended many years before. He expected nothing in return, desiring only that she would accept his help to get out of the gutter.
Helen was a prisoned bird set free. She appreciated the improvement in her mode of living. But after a time she began to feel unworthy, and her unworthiness led her to feel dishonest. Down inside, she still felt like a tramp and seemed to be pretending to be someone she wasn't, and could never be. Also, her body continued to crave the drugs to which it was accustomed. So she left the better life, and returned to the abusive, drug-supplying monster, who received her back, but with a beating. She was like one Peter describes as a dog who returns to its vomit, or a pig who, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mud.
Our good man in the story went after her and persuaded her to return. But again, after a time, she again felt like an undeserving pretender and went back to the lowlife. She believed it was more honest to acknowledge that she was simply no good than to be a hypocrite.
Again the man persuaded her to leave her miserable life and step up to a higher plane of living. This became a repeating pattern, occurring many times. Helen's is a true story, as it parallels many real life situations in which women, of their own free will, go back to the prison from which they have been freed, and tolerate the abuse of a scoundrel for his paltry and worthless favors. Not comprehending the meaning of true love, they may genuinely believe they love him and return time after time for more abuse and shame.
But what of our good man?
He loved her at her worst. He was not gullible; he knew exactly what she was. But he knew that she could have a better life if she would simply accept it. His love persevered long and patiently, and Helen eventually came to understand love as she had never known it, and stepped up permanently to a wholesome, chaste life.
II. Hosea and Gomer
This story echoes that of the prophet Hosea and his wife Gomer. God told Hosea “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry...” So Hosea married Gomer, a prostitute. They had two sons and a daughter, who are called “the children of whoredom.” But her natural desires and impulses manifested themselves. Gomer proved to be unfaithful to Hosea, and went to lovers. As time passed, Gomer's circumstances descended to the point that she was apparently reduced to being a slave, either to one of her lovers or another person to whom she sold herself. Now Gomer was for sale as a slave.
To all appearances, Gomer was a woman to be avoided. She was trouble, and that is true. Hosea could have gone through the motions just to give a literal obedience to the command, as if it was an item on a “do list.” But there was a problem with that, for you see, Hosea loved her. In the beginning, God had told him, “Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry.” But now God says to Hosea "Go again, love a woman who is loved by her husband, yet an adulteress.” It was to be an active love, not a mere acknowledgement of an obligation.
There she stood—unfaithful, disgraced, wretched, no doubt ashamed to have been reduced to being bought and sold--or perhaps, past shame. Hosea bought his wife for fifteen sheckels, the price for her freedom, and received her back to himself. We know little of how things worked out for Hosea and Gomer after that, but we see Hosea as a man who obeyed God from the heart, not simply to give compliance to directives.
He loved her at her worst.
Hosea's story illustrated God's love for Israel, his patience in Israel's unfaithfulness, and his eventual payment of the price for her freedom from the sins that enslaved her.
III. There is a model for us in these stories. Not that we—men or women--should look among people steeped and entrenched in sin and disgrace for our mates—but that we should actively love the people in our lives who disappoint us by sometimes acting in inappropriate, unbecoming ways.