How Hosea found the God of Mercy – Greg Albrecht (with Brad Jersak)
In his 1930 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Green Pastures, Marc Connelly reenacts stories from the Old Testament through exclusively Black characters from the depression-era South – including God. Looking back nearly a century, it’s easy to see how racially problematic Connelly’s white conception of Black culture and perspective could be. That said, it marked the first Broadway stage production with an all-Black cast and, when the film version (1936) arrived, the bigger complaint (and the reason why some nations banned it) was that the film was allegedly “blasphemous.” One wonders if that actually had more to do with the critics’ racism than the film’s controversial theological content.
With that in mind, it is remarkable that through Green Pasture’s characters, we hear the ancient voice of wisdom and revelation that reflects the experience of the Jews under siege (as in the time of Jeremiah’s Lamentations) and the disenfranchised Black descendants after centuries of slavery followed by Jim Crow segregation.
At the heart of the story, the characters address extremely important questions that Christianity and its opponents are just (re)learning now. First, how or why is it that Jews in slavery, exile, or under occupation did not abandon their God? Had he not abandoned them? Second, why in heaven’s name did Black slaves ever embrace the Christian God (of their colonial slavers) in the first place? Shouldn’t they turn from him now? And perhaps most important of all, how does the intense affliction of an oppressed people lead them to the inspired apex of revelation: that the only true God is actually all-merciful?
In scene VII of the story, God appears at the Temple in Jerusalem after a battle, disguised in human flesh, well before the time of Christ. Feigning ignorance, God asks a soldier, Hezdrel, about the Jewish people have not abandoned faith in God after all their suffering. After all, had not God abandoned them?
- GOD: How is it you is so brave ?
- HEZDREL: Caize we got faith, dat’s why!
- GOD: Faith? In who?
- HEZDREL: In our dear Lawd God.
- GOD: But God say he abandoned ev’ one down yere.
- HEZDREL: Who say dat ? Who dare say dat of de Lawd God of Hosea?
- GOD: De God of Hosea?
- HEZDREL: You heard me. Look yere, you is a spy in my brain!
- GOD: No, I ain’t, Hezdrel. I’m jest puzzled. You ought to know dat.
- HEZDREL: How come you so puzzled ’bout de God of Hosea ?
- GOD: I don’ know. Maybe I jest don’ hear things. You see, I live ‘way back in de hills.
- HEZDREL: What you wanter find out ?
- GOD: Ain’t de God of Hosea de same Jehovah dat was de God of Moses?
- HEZDREL: No. Dat ol’ God of wrath and vengeance? We have de God dat Hosea preached to us. He’s de one God.
- GOD: Who’s he?
- HEZDREL: De God of mercy.
- GOD: Hezdrel, don’ you think dey must be de same God ?
- HEZDREL: I don’ know. I ain’t bothered to think much about it. Maybe dey is. Maybe our God is de same ol’ God. I guess we jest got tired of his appearance dat ol’ way.
- GOD: What you mean, Hezdrel ?
- HEZDREL: Oh, dat ol’ God dat walked de earth in de shape of a man. I guess he lived wid man so much dat all he seen was de sins in man. Dat’s what made him de God of wrath and vengeance. Co’se he made Hosea. An’ Hosea never would a found what mercy was unless dere was a little of it in God, too. Anyway, he ain’t a fearsome God no mo’. Hosea showed us dat.
- GOD: How you s’pose Hosea found dat mercy ?
- HEZDREL: De only way he could find it. De only way I found it. De only way anyone kin find it.
- GOD: How’s dat?
- HEZDREL: Through sufferin.
To summarize this scene, not knowing he’s speaking to God, Hezdrel objects to the idea that God ever abandoned his people: “Who say dat? Who dare say dat of de Lawd God of Hosea?” He explains that Israel no longer believed in ‘the old God’ of vengeance and wrath. The God that Hosea preached is a God of mercy – that’s what Hosea had shown them.
God-in-disguise asks, “How you s’pose Hosea found dat mercy?” Hezrel’s answer is simple: “Through sufferin.”
The final scene is set back in heaven, where God is having a fish fry. There, God “gets the idea” that he must send a God who must suffer back to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. Is God so cruel as to cause suffering for our benefit? No! Rather, he visits us in our suffering to show his mercy and inhabited our suffering in person through Jesus Christ. The one God worthy of our worship is he who clothed himself in human flesh, underwent the depths of the human condition, and thereby can both bear and heal our wounds.
- Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason, he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Hebrews 2:14-18).