I didn’t used to like Shel Silverstein’s classic tale, “The Giving Tree”, either. As a kid, I never understood it. Then, not so very long ago, I happened to read the following anecdote on the blog of Donald Miller:
“What many people don’t know about that story [of The Giving Tree] is that Brennan Manning, who passed away on Friday of last week, and Shel Silverstein met when they were young and according to Manning, stayed in touch. Later, after Shel began to write and Manning became a priest, they had a conversation about God and God’s love. Manning asked Silverstein what he thought God’s love felt like. Silverstein thought about it for a while but had no answer. Much later, Silverstein got in touch with Manning and gave him a copy of The Giving Tree saying the book was his answer to Manning’s question.”
Needless to say, “The Giving Tree” makes a lot more sense to me, now. And thought of in this light, I can’t help thinking it has a lot in common with the book of Hosea. (Hosea is the book that changed my mind about OT prophets… it’s powerful good stuff.)
I’m hardly a scholar, so maybe this parallel is just the product my silly little mind losing another spring. But if you want to read Hosea 11, and imagine all the I’s were “the tree”, and all the you’s/Israels/etc., were “the boy”, it’s a very similar story. If you don’t want to do that, it’s worth reading anyway.
“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
and I called my son out of Egypt.
But the more I called to him,
the farther he moved from me,
offering sacrifices to the images of Baal
and burning incense to idols.
I myself taught Israel how to walk,
leading him along by the hand.
But he doesn’t know or even care
that it was I who took care of him.
I led Israel along
with my ropes of kindness and love.
I lifted the yoke from his neck,
and I myself stooped to feed him.
“But since my people refuse to return to me,
they will return to Egypt
and will be forced to serve Assyria.
War will swirl through their cities;
their enemies will crash through their gates.
They will destroy them,
trapping them in their own evil plans.
For my people are determined to desert me.
They call me the Most High,
but they don’t truly honor me.
“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel?
How can I let you go?
How can I destroy you like Admah
or demolish you like Zeboiim?
My heart is torn within me,
and my compassion overflows.
No, I will not unleash my fierce anger.
I will not completely destroy Israel,
for I am God and not a mere mortal.
I am the Holy One living among you,
and I will not come to destroy.
For someday the people will follow me.
I, the Lord, will roar like a lion.
And when I roar,
my people will return trembling from the west.
Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt.
Trembling like doves, they will return from Assyria.
And I will bring them home again,”
says the Lord.
God loves us like crazy. Perhaps we love Him, too. But our love is a pitiful thing in comparison. We take His for granted. We take his blessings and we squander them. We wander away from His loving care, as if there might be something better for us to discover in the world. He calls to us to come back. We stick our fingers in our ears. He calls louder. We act like we hear Him, nodding and smiling, but then we run off. He doesn’t forget about us. Meanwhile, we get lost, and confused, and grow stupid. He chases after us. We panic, and fall into a pit. He gets down on his hands and knees and helps us out.
… I could go on. But Hosea and Shel Silverstein made the point a lot better than I can do. Also, both writing and posting serious contemplations in the middle of the week after a long workday might be a decision I regret later. Forgive any gross errors of form or thought that might be owing to this, kind reader. I’m going to go do some more pondering now, and perhaps hug a tree. A lovely evening to you all.