These Words

The most important fact in all of reality is that God exists. What are you to do with this fact?

From more than 3,000 years ago, here is quite possibly the ultimate writing on the subject:

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength, and these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. —Deuteronomy 6:4-7

A few observations about this passage:

1. “You shall love the Lord…” leads directly to “… and these words which I command you today shall be in your heart.” Compare that with Jesus’ words: “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In Old Testament and New, in documents written about 1,500 years apart, we find these two statements of the same idea—that the way to love God is to value highly and take seriously what he has said to us. (Indeed, the source of the two statements was the same. Jesus said Moses, traditional author of the passage above, was in fact writing about him—John 5:46).

2. Look at the activities mentioned in the passage above. They include sitting, walking, sleeping, waking. Meanwhile, there is no mention of any mountaintop experience, no mention of ritual. God, the creator of each day, is the author of our everyday lives. The mundane is not boring to him. He invites us into a life in which simple activities are lit up with sacredness, with nearness to him.

3. Are we to obey the words of the Lord’s commands? Strikingly, the passage above does not literally say this. It says we are to revere and treasure the commands—these words shall be in your heart. Perhaps this is because, as sinners, it is impossible that we would perfectly obey. We are instead called to be transformed by loving what God has said, and treating it as holy enough to aspire to be true to it. Even in the line attributed to Jesus in point #1 above, the original Greek word was tereo, which has the sense of “guard” rather than “obey.” “You shall keep my commandments” (emphasis mine) is how the King James expresses it.

4. You shall teach them diligently to your children. We have a generational responsibility. This treasure we keep is to be passed to its next possessors and guardians, and we are to do this diligently.

5. How do we treasure the treasure? The plain answer, out of the passage above, is that we revere the treasure at least in part by talking about it. The Deuteronomy passage entails considerable talking. The Law of scripture is, in this respect, considerably different from the sets of regulations that make up human laws. The Ten Commandments are concise and straightforward on the surface, yet flower with implication and meaning the more they are examined, the more they are discussed. Anyone claiming to know God’s Law so well and so fully that discussion was at an end would be contradicting scripture.