God’s way is possible (Horizons 9)

Lesson 9 — Deuteronomy 30

B.J. is 6 years old, shy and cute as a button. He likes to hide just ahead of me, and then he giggles when I see him. He lives in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. His school has few resources. I meet with B.J. once a week to practice reading. B.J. gets discouraged easily, because the other students can do much more than he can. One day I said, “B.J., soon you are going to be able to read this page in seconds.” Immediately, B.J. sat up straight and smiled.

In this lesson, God is giving Israel a pep talk. “The commandment that I am giving you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven … nor across the sea. No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). You can do this. You can keep the commandments. It is as easy as reciting the commandments until they are second nature.

It is reported that Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me; it is the parts that I do understand.” It is not that God’s commandments are hard to understand. Jesus simplifies all the commandments when he tells us to put God at the center of our lives and work for the well-being of others just like we work for our own well-being.

God says to us, “I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15). The life-giving way is the path of obedience to God’s commandments. God’s way leads to abundance for the community. Everyone has good food, clean water and shelter. There is work and medicine. Children are given a good education, protection and nurture. There is joy and laughter, tears shared, burdens carried together. Love for one another flows out into the world like a refreshing, pure stream.

The path away from God deals out death in small and massive amounts. Unyielding points of view, with large measures of blame, lead to quagmires in government. Millions of people are without job opportunities, while power and wealth are held in fewer and fewer hands. Our very planet, entrusted to our care, is threatened. Abuse, corruption, addiction, poverty, destruction, ignorance, pornography, slavery and fear are the offspring of the fatal values of our world.

Choosing life is remembering that we are beloved children of God. God tells us that we are blessed to be a blessing and that there are special credentials for love. The world lies, telling us that our beauty, intelligence, accomplishments, strength, wealth and social standing are what measure our worth. These lies are incredibly powerful, addictive and deadly.

Heidi Grogan writes about her son Charlie and his struggle with anorexia. He came to believe that food was poison, and his refusal to eat left him near death. She writes, “I wonder if anorexia is one of the ways we live out a universal shame, a consequence of forgetting what it means to live into the image of love we are created in. Charlie listened to that voice, maybe like Adam and Eve did, saying, ‘You could be better, if only you would … ’ Anorexia speaks the lie that he is not good enough and does not belong. It isolates him by saying food (which brings people together) will hurt him.” (Weavings, Volume XXIX, No. 2, pages 18,20)

Yet God does not leave us alone. Like a dad sleeping by his sick son’s bedside, or a mother who keeps checking that her baby is breathing, God stays with us.

A young adult son, talking about his recently deceased father, said, “My dad loved me and my sister unconditionally. He was proud of our every accomplishment. We knew the limits and that things had to be done thoroughly and correctly, but we didn’t break the rules. He loved us so much that we did not want to disappoint him.”

God’s love is even bigger than the deceased father’s love for his daughter and son. It is hard for us to imagine, especially for those of us who did not have wonderful parents. But God’s love is real. God loves you as a cherished child. God loves us as cherished children.

Six-year-old B.J. has many challenges in his life. He needs encouragement and hope that he can read and learn. We have challenges as well. There is hard work before us as Christians. God tells us that his way is possible and that he will be with us. May the Holy Spirit infuse us and fill us with the hope that comes from God’s promises.

Editor’s note: The theme of Horizons magazine’s 2013-2014 Bible study lessons is “An Abiding Hope: The Presence of God in Exodus and Deuteronomy.” This article is part of a Presbyterian Outlook series on that theme. Horizons magazine is a publication of Presbyterian Women.

rosalind-banburyROSALIND BANBURY is associate pastor for adult ministries, First Church, Richmond, Va.