Spouses aren’t the only ones who can file for divorce. In extreme cases, children can legally divorce their parents. It’s known as being an “emancipated minor,” an escape hatch for those living in cases of extreme duress. Writing for the New York Times, Dr. Richard Friedman writes:
“Granted, no parent is perfect. And whining about parental failure, real or not, is practically an American pastime that keeps the therapeutic community dutifully employed….
Of course, we cannot undo history with therapy. But we can help mend brains and minds by removing or reducing stress.
Sometimes, as drastic as it sounds, that means letting go of a toxic parent.” (Richard A. Friedman, “When Parents are too Toxic to Tolerate.” The New York Times, October 19, 2009)
Surely there’s value to this. It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to grow up with a “toxic parent.” The safety and wellbeing of a child should never be threatened or compromised. But who decides when a parent is truly “toxic?” Could this lead to the same kind of “divorce culture” that dominates the landscape of marriage? In traditional cultures, the value of the family was so prized that society made divorce very difficult. But in today’s culture, the value of the individual is so prized, that society makes divorce very easy. I don’t know what implications—if any—this has for children and their parents, but when a culture places the needs of individuals over the needs of others its often a slippery slope toward ruin.
The same thing happened between God and Israel. Notice that the word picture switches. God’s relationship to Israel is no longer husband and wife but Father and son:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. 2 The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols. 3 Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk; I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them. 4 I led them with cords of kindness, with the bands of love, and I became to them as one who eases the yoke on their jaws, and I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:1-4)
Ephraim, you may recall, was the largest tribe in Israel’s Northern Kingdom. God had dealt kindly and justly with His people—His “son,” as He calls them. Yet they became the emancipated minor, looking for help and security elsewhere.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY
God’s response to this was to allow His people to have it their way. They would remain in exile—apart from God’s promises—because they were reaping exactly what they’d sown. The rival nation of Assyria would govern them:
5 They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. 6 The sword shall rage against their cities, consume the bars of their gates, and devour them because of their own counsels. 7 My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all. (Hosea 11:5-7)
This is where it gets deeply, painfully personal. How many times do you or I insist on doing life our own way? In today’s world, I am sovereign. My smart phone can do more for me than God can—at least that’s the way it seems. My weather app can inform my travel plans way more readily than prayerfully seeking God’s will. My Facebook app can offer me connectivity way more immediately than God’s community. My Google app offers me information (and advice) way more accessibly than the pages of Scripture. And my Netflix app offers me an escape from a world that God naggingly insists I journey through.
In other words, I am addicted to self-sufficiency. I have exchanged the lasting joy of God’s kingdom for a fake empire that offers me everything yet promises me nothing. And generally speaking, I can coast through life enjoying what this other kingdom offers. It’s only when things start to rattle apart, when I stand on the smouldering ruins of my own self-sufficiency, that I realize that I need help. I need a light to penetrate this kingdom of shadows, and save me from myself.
God’s anger is nothing without His love, just as His love is nothing without His anger. He is angry because His people have rejected His goodness for a lie, but in His love He will not grant them the full measure of judgment that they deserve:
8 How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. 9 I will not execute my burning anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath. 10 They shall go after the LORD; he will roar like a lion; when he roars, his children shall come trembling from the west; 11 they shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria, and I will return them to their homes, declares the LORD. 12 Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah still walks with God and is faithful to the Holy One. (Hosea 11:8-12)
The gloriously good news of the gospel is that though we deserve God’s anger, He grants us His love. In our rebellion we became the emancipated minor. In God’s love we became “adopted as sons” (Galatians 4:5).
Do you understand the full meaning of this word picture? If God is merely a judge, you may be thankful He pardoned your crimes. But a pardon alone is not enough to provoke your love. A judge can pronounce your innocence, but he can never tell you what to do with your guilt. That’s why “adoption” is so powerful. If God is my Father, than I receive not just His forgiveness, but also the inheritance of His kingdom (Romans 8:17). Not everyone has a good picture of a “father”—that’s actually why we enact laws to emancipate minors to begin with. But God is a perfect Father—a Father unlike any of His earthly shadows, and unlike our wildest dreams.
It truly is “His kindness that leads to repentance” (Romans 2:4). So to be adopted as God’s son is to sever my allegiance with the kingdoms of this world. And to be adopted as His son means that I can have the confidence that my sins have been forgiven, and that I can receive the promise of lasting joy.