“I will not carry out my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not mortal; in your midst (is) the Holy One. And I will not come in wrath.” Hosea 11:9 (translation J. Dearman)
For I am God – It’s possible that you’ve heard this verse expounded in its true context, but I rather doubt it. You see, this is a favorite verse used to support the unbridgeable gap between God and Man. Usually translated “for I am God and not a man,” the passage becomes doctrinal fodder for the claim that God is so different from human beings that all we can say at best is He isn’t like us. This leads to theological attributes such as infinite, omniscient, omnipotent, immutable, impassible and perfect. Each attribute is determined by examining a human characteristic and then asserting that God is not like a man. He is the opposite of what we are. We are finite, limited in ability and temporal. God is infinite, unlimited in ability and extemporal. And so it goes.
Now notice the context of this verse. The context is exactly the opposite of an assertion that God is ontologically removed from the human situation. God’s remark is ethical, not ontological. The context suggests that any ordinary human being would long ago have given up on rebellious Israel. Any human being would have wanted justice, demanded punishment or recompense. After one thousand years of rebellion, a human king would have destroyed these people. But God is not a man! God does not act as human beings would act. His love exceeds anything human beings express. He is faithful without faltering. In that sense, He is not like us. He loves long after we give up.
The verse does not suggest that God is so different from us that we can’t even begin to comprehend Him. The verse declares that God is quite a bit like us except He acts with complete faithfulness. We are encouraged to look at God’s character as we would examine our own, to discover that we know what it means to want justice for an offense and then, shockingly discover that God withholds His rightful claim in order to fulfill His promise. God is not like a man because God acts morally and ethically in every situation, even in those situations where we can’t imagine ourselves doing anything of the sort. If this verse accomplishes anything at all in its context, it shows me just how close God is to me, not how distant and distinct He is. This verse describes God in ways that we clearly understand. We just don’t do what God does. We quit. He doesn’t.
When Greek metaphysics invaded biblical thinking a lot of very foreign ideas about God crept into the theological edifice of the Church. Theologians, fascinated by the apparent serendipity between Greek philosophy and post-Judaic biblical thinking, asserted that Greek philosophy provided a foundation in reason for the prophetically-revealed divine truth. This synthesis has been incorporated into Christianity, but an examination of the context often produces different conclusions. The next time someone begins to speak about God’s transcendental attributes, take a second, very long look before you agree.
Topical Index: attributes, context, Hosea 11:9
 For the theologians among us, this is called the via negativa.