God’s Valentine’s Day Letter (is not what you think)
As I sit on this bus/train on my way to cook a special dinner with/for my wife, I couldn’t help but reflect upon the love from which ours comes. It’s become customary to send cards and letters to loved ones on February 14, and while my cynical nature might look to the commercialism of it all, part of me knows that for many, if not most people, their actions are motivated by a genuinely felt love. If, as a Christian, I think that the love of God is greater than any other the world has ever seen, does that mean God has celebrated Valentine’s day? Well, while that’s a silly question on the surface, after all these are fairly recent, human creations, it is nevertheless true that God celebrates Easter and Christmas. Again,while the parallel is inexact, maybe we should ask instead, has God sent us a love note, a valentine of sort? If so, what might it be?
The go to answer for this might be the entire bible, but that’s a bit broad. We might say his lover letter is the birth of Jesus, the Word incarnate as it were. Further we might instead point to the crucifixion or the resurrection or Pentecost. All of these are good candidates, but I’d like to suggest it’s something else entirely.
In the bible class I teach here, we just finished a discussion of Torah, the law, the first five books of the bible. In it we concluded with Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is mostly comprised of a single speech (or possibly a small handful put together). In it the whole law is essentially summed up. Our class focused on chapters 6 and 30. Both emphasize the exclusivity and faithfulness of our relationship with God.
The verse most people remember from chapter 6 is the “shema”. “Hear o Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.” This is followed by what Jesus called the “first” command, to love God entirely, with your whole being. However the end of that section I quoted might be translated differently. It seems the emphasis on the unity of God might have been a Jewish reaction against both polytheism and, much later, the Christian Trinity (of course the later does not contradict the unity of God). It might just as well, or perhaps better, be translated “the LORD is your God, the LORD alone.” Now that changes something. It’s no longer telling us something about God’s nature primarily. Instead the focus shifts to a relationship. Only the LORD, YHWH (Yahweh, the name of God) is the God of Israel. They’re exclusive. It’s a sign of commitment to each other to be in this covenant brought about by the law. In short the law, as God meant it to be, is not a series of obligations with condemnation as a negative effect to ignoring it, the law is God’s love letter to a people with whom He is in a committed relationship.
Lest you think I’m talking out of who knows where, let’s look at chapter 30. There we hear meantion that the law is “not far off” but that it is near us. In order to understand this a bit better, let’s look at the ten commandments.
We know that the ten commandments were written down on two tablets. While I used to think that this meant the commands were broken up into distinct sections, what the Reformers called the “two tables” I no longer think that the case. Old Testament scholar, and all around swell guy, Kenneth Matthews has conviced me that the form of the ten commandments follows something called a Babylonian Suzerin Treaty. If that’s right, then each tablet featured the entirety of the ten commandments. Why does that matter? Well, again relying on Dr Matthews, each party to the treaty would retain a copy of it to display. It contained details of the obligations of the stronger and weaker party (like a set of laws, some of which have a promise “that it may go well with you”). By bringing them together, what is God saying? Is it possible that God was telling Israel that “in the law” is where God and humanity can meet?
Back to Deuteronomy 30. If God meets Israel in the law, then by saying it is “near” is God saying he is near to us? The case for the law as “love letter” is made stronger when we hear God speak of not an act of physical circumcision, but a circumcision of the heart. These aren’t commands in the traditional sense, but acts of love back toward a God who first loved them. This is confirmed at the end of the chapter when we read thaty, rather than a perfect righteousness, faithfulness to the covenant (i.e. a “heart condition” of commitment) “that will be our righeousness.” This is grace this is love.
If the law is God’s love letter, then the incarnation and crucifixion is God’s marriage proposal. The relationship has fundamentally changed and as such we are no longer under the law, but like any good lover, sometimes we go back and reread those old love letters, especially when we can’t see our lover, God himself. Further, if the crucifixion is the poposal, the the resurrection and Christ’s return is the wedding. We’ve caught a glimpse of a wedding that’s happened, but not quite yet. And that is a wonderful thing.
So what do you think? How else could the law be God’s love letter to us? Please comment and feel free to suggest future topics for this blog.