"I will call them my people,
which were not my people;
and her beloved,
which was not beloved" - Romans 9:25
I have thought deeply about this verse the past several days. It is the epigraph and opening of Toni Morrison's Beloved. The Bible verse from Paul explicitly refers to Jesus's acceptance of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews, and how the ethnic Israelites rejected true religion in Christ, and that all nations beyond the Jews received the Gospel as a result.
But I think more of how Romans 9:25 applies to my own life, how the people I didn't previously call my people became my people, and how the people who I didn't previously call beloved became my beloved. Ostensibly, the answer is quite obvious: I came to love people I didn't love before.
It's more complicated than that, however, and I look to Toni Morrison's critically acclaimedBeloved for further interpretations on the complexities on the verse. The dedication of Beloved reads "sixty million and more," a reference to the number of people who died in the slave trade. "And more" has broader implications that it's not just about those who died, but those who lived on and carried the wounds and memories of the trade. In some ways, all who were affected by slavery were victimized, and Beloved deals with the trauma and "rememory" faced by the protagonists of the novel, including Sethe, Paul D, Denver, and Beloved herself. Each carries the wounds of necessary actions they had to take while escaping the horrors of the slave trade, from Sethe's infanticide of her oldest daughter to prevent her from being sold into slavery to Paul D's repression of his experience in the chain gang.
In short, Beloved and its epigraph could be a message that slaves winning their freedom, and being God's people when they were not treated as his people, and God's beloved when they were not treated as his beloved.
But Paul intended for Romans 9:25 to refer explicitly to the fact that God's love is for everyone, even for people who seem to be excluded from it. Obviously, Romans is a letter to the Romans, and is a plea to the church of Rome to love and respect the Gentiles as much as they do the Jews.
It speaks to the gravity of Romans 9:25 that Morrison took the title of Beloved from this verse. According to Shmoop, "maybe Morrison is suggesting that God's love isn't just for Gentiles and Jews—it's also for those blacks who were condemned to slavery."
Since Sethe's love is so profound and complicated that she is willing to commit infanticide to save her daughter from the suffering of slavery, does Morrison convey that a mother's love is God's love in human form? Does this equivalence equate Sethe in Beloved to Christ?
Explicitly, the verse is also a reference to the Old Testament Book of Hosea, particularly Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10, that the status of Israel would be reversed in the new world.
Hosea 1:10 says that "the number of children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God."
Hosea 2:23 says that "I will sow her for myself in the land./ And I will have mercy on No Mercy./ and I will say to Not My People, "You are my people';/ and he shall say, 'You are my God.'"
For me, the conflict and sanctification are never over. How do I follow the commandments of Romans 9:25, of Beloved , of Hosea to include and see people as "children of the living God" more and more often? How do I say "you are my people" to all people I engage with? The honest answer is I don't know, but I"m trying, reaching, to fulfill God's commandment to include everyone and be completely inclusive in my endeavors, whatever that means to me.
I know that this starts with people I disagree with, the people I perceive to have betrayed me, that my emotions react aversively to. That is the hardest task to tackle, and tackling it first means that I will become more inclusive and Christ-like in my interactions and ministry to others.
God showed great compassion to everyone he encountered, so why shouldn't I do the same? The message of Romans 9 refers to the concept of unconditional election, that "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" in Romans 9:13. But God brings nonbelievers into faith through the love of the Christian to the nonbelievers. Paul, in his sermon to the Athenians in Acts 17, tells them that "[God] is actually not far from each on of us." I have witnessed and experienced this in my own life. We, as sinful and flawed human beings, are not to decide the elect; God does.
And I endeavor to give love towards everyone because I feel that is what God is urging me to do, to make those who were not my people to be my people, and to make those who were not beloved my beloved, because that's what God did for me.