Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Suffering and Blessing

Deuteronomy - (the second law) 11:26-28
"Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse:
the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day,
and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods which you have not known.

Some things in life are grey and indistinct and other things are pretty clear. This is one of those latter – follow the commands of God and you will be blessed.
Refuse to follow them you will be cursed.
Ok, clear!
But right away I can sense rising in you an objection.
“You know that sounds good but aren’t there an awful lot of good people, followers of God’s law, who in fact are kind of cursed, whose lives don’t go well, who fail and suffer. And aren’t there an awful lot of wicked people who despise God’s law and they seem to do pretty well. They seem to prosper.”

Point on point of fact, biblical Jews felt this objection. They wrestled with this very question.
The Book of Job is the most famous example of that wrestling. You know because Job was a good man and he knows it so he challenges God “Why am I suffering?”
The prophet Jeremiah complains famously “why, O Lord do the ways of the wicked prosper?”

That is a good question isn’t it?
Especially in light of what Moses says in Deuteronomy, it is a very good question.
You just told me that if I follow His laws I will be blessed and if I don’t follow them I will be cursed.
Well, sounds good, but it doesn’t play out in life.

Ok, what we have to do is to refine what Deuteronomy means and in so doing we will actually open up its true meaning.

Listen to what he says just prior to the blessing and curse in Deuteronomy 11:18.
“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul.”

That is the level we are at. The level of the heart and soul.
The blessing the author speaks of here has little or nothing to do with the surface of ones life.
And the same goes for the curse.
It doesn’t mean that if you follow God’s law you will always have good health, never experience set backs or failures, always be honoured and well thought of.
It doesn’t mean that. Because those things pertain to the relative surface of your life.
It doesn’t mean that ignoring God’s commands will necessarily conduce to failure, sickness and rejection etcetera. Those things are at the relative surface of one’s life.

The rhetoric here is properly religious.
Which is to say, it addresses that deepest level of the self.
The place that the Bible calls the heart and the soul.
What is that?
The heart or the soul is the centre of you.
The place where you are most authentically and deeply yourself.
The point of contact with God.

It is the energy that under girds and informs all the other areas of your life – physical, psychological, emotional, relational.
As such, it is at the same time it is the most important and the most elusive dimension of you.

Here the logic of Deuteronomy obtains.
If you follow God’s commands you will find blessing at that level of your life.
You will find what the Bible calls “peace”.
And Shalom can exist alongside of and in spite of the greatest kind of suffering.
And if you fail to follow God’s commands you will be cursed at that deepest level.
A curse that can co-exist with the greatest temporal success.

Does that make sense?
Someone’s got it all.
They’ve got a home, they’ve got pleasure, they’ve got honour, they’ve got power. They have got material things, big bank account.
You say ‘well that guy is blessed’
Well, at the relative surface of life.

But what’s at the level of his heart?
What is at the level of his soul?
That place where he is at rest most deeply by God?
I can tell you, and you know this too, there are loads of people who are blessed at the surface of life and are very cursed at the deep down level.
And someone can suffer every type of setback at the relative surface – no success, no money, no power, no esteem, no honour.
Yet, I know this and so do you, they can experience the deepest joy and peace at the level of the heart.
They have nothing and yet they are radiant with joy and that’s because they are following God’s command at this deepest level.

Rolling Stone did an interview with Sting and asked him “Is there anything, anything that you wish you had?”
and Sting replied “I have a beautiful wife, a lovely daughter, I have money and I have fame but there is still an emptiness.”

Now Sting, who in the world’s eyes has everything you could possibly imagine a person would want.
He is wealthy beyond comprehension.
He lives in a mansion in Ireland that is amazing.
He is known everywhere and has written some of the biggest hits in the world.
But he says there is still an emptiness.

What kind of emptiness could there possibly be if he has everything that the world says is necessary.
I have everything the world says is important but I am still empty.

Source: talk given by Tammy Evevard.
Franciscan Conference – Young Adults Conference June 2005

Source: Father Robert Barron

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