Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Moses had a vision of a family conversation in which a child, a teenager perhaps (?), would say to her Dad "What is this all about?" "Why do we go to church?" "Why do we do this or don't do that?" The answer Moses instructs us to give speaks volumes about the nature of the torah and the nature of our relationship with Yahweh. Tell your daughter or son:
"We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the LORD sent miraculous signs and wonders - great and terrible - upon Egypt and pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as it is the case today ..." (Deuteronomy 6.21-24)
The parent/teacher becomes a theologian of sorts and passes on a few essential theological points to the listener. First, the meaning of the commandments is that God so loved Israel he became her Redeemer. That is Yahweh took on the gods of Egypt and Pharaoh himself and defeated them for the sake of delivering Israel from slavery. Beloved child if you fail to see the grace of salvation in the torah, then we have failed to grasp the torah. Second, God's commands testify to the faithfulness of Yahweh in keeping his oath to the Patriarchs. Third, God has made us his own at Horeb. Beloved daughter/son, we are people of the Story: People of redemption, people of election, people of adoption and this is what the torah means.
Deuteronomy reminds us in a powerful way that commands are not simply about commands. The torah of God points us to the Story, the Great Story of salvation by God's grace. Moses teaches us that the story provides meaning and motive for following God.
As NT Christians this Mosiac truth is still valid. What is the meaning of our bizarre rituals and antique lifestyle? Is it not that God rescued us by his own hand? Baptism is not about baptism. Nor is baptism even about remission of sins. Is not the act of baptism about the Story? Baptism tells the story of God's salvation. The Lord's Supper is not about bread and wine is it. Rather the bread and wine are vehicles to tell the story of God's Great Story of redemption. In both baptism and Lord's Supper we, like Israel of old, are invited to "remember" ... not the command but what God has done. Remembering in Hebrew is not simply a total recall of factoids. Remembering in Hebrew is more like what we call virtual reality ... as I follow God's commands my life is absorbed in the Great Story of grace.
When asked why do we keep God's commands, Moses' answer was not "because God said so." Nor did he reply in a number of ways we are tempted to answer. Why do we keep the torah? What does the Bible mean? Moses' reply is that we do this because we are People of the Great Story of Grace. If we have the story ingrained in our soul how can we but love his torah?