Maybe I was naive and protected, but it was not until I had been in the ministry for a few years that I first heard the term “love child.” A member of an extended family was trying to explain to me why one of the cousins was treated differently from the others, appearing to be at the bottom of the pecking order, related to more like a servant than a peer: “Well, you know she’s a love child.” I was shocked to learn that this phrase was code for the fact that she was the product of one of the uncles’ affair with another woman. When the unwed mother was unable to provide for the baby, the family had taken her in and raised her. But she was never accepted as an equal. The man was made to pay for his infidelity in constant subtle ways, but the girl paid a great price as well. She was a love child, and everybody knew what that meant.

Isn’t it ironic, though, that the baby born from the relationship outside of marriage is seen as motivated by love, while a baby born in the proper way, by the union between husband and wife, is seen as motivated by — what? duty? This doesn’t say much for the marriage or the children springing from it.

Some of you may have already thought of the Supremes song from 1968, entitled “Love Child.” (Listen here: Soloist Diana Ross sings as a woman feeling pressured into sex by her boyfriend. She herself grew up as a love child, and she doesn’t want to bring her baby into the world with the same liability:

Love child, never meant to be; Love child, born in poverty;
Love child, never meant to be; Love child, take a look at me;
I started my life in an old, cold run-down tenement slum.
My father left, he never even married mom.
I shared the guilt my mama knew, so afraid that others
knew I had no name.
Love child, never meant to be; Love child, scorned by society;
Love child, always second best;
Love child, different from the rest.
I started school in a worn, torn dress that somebody threw out;
I knew the way it felt to always live in doubt;
To be without the simple things, so afraid my friends would see the guilt in me.
No child of mine’ll be bearing
The name of shame I’ve been wearing.
Love child, love child, never quite as good;
Afraid, ashamed, misunderstood.

Maybe your backstory includes some realities about how you came into the world, with some baggage similar to the love child we’ve been talking about. You weren’t born into a neat, white-picket-fence family, in which your father and your mother were an ideal, happily married couple. You’re from the other side of the tracks. You always felt less than those around you. If so, you may find comfort in the strange story of the Old Testament prophet Hosea. This is the shocking introduction:

The Lord said to Hosea, ‘Go, take for yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.’ So he went and took Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son (Hosea 1:2-3).

The Lord is asking Hosea to enter a relationship that will be a living demonstration of the unfaithfulness of Israel to their God. He asks him to intentionally marry a woman who will cheat on him, so that he can feel what God feels and share that feeling of betrayal with others through his writing.

Out of their union, love children were born. They were given names that symbolized the broken relationship between God and his chosen people; one is Lo-ruhama (“No Pity”), while another is Lo-ammi (“Not My People”) (Hosea 1:4-9). Hosea describes all the woundedness, emotional pain and rage he felt as the husband of this unfaithful woman, but he still reaches out and embraces her and her children with his love. This is a living illustration of the gracious forgiveness God is anxious to show toward his wayward children:

I will have pity on Lo-ruhamah,
and I will say to Lo-ammi, ‘You are my people’;
and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ (Hosea 2:23)

I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,  they shall flourish as a garden.
(Hosea 14:4)

God’s faithfulness outlasts our infidelity.

Have you been feeling like an outsider, a reject, an illegitimate child in God’s family? Is that your back story? Pay attention to the word of the Lord through Hosea. YOU’LL LEARN THAT YOU REALLY ARE A LOVE CHILD: GOD’S LOVE CHILD!

— Pastor George Van Alstine