I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live. -Deuteronomy 30:19
Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I say? -Luke 6:46
When it comes to moral law, the modern world often sees only two possible options:
- Jesus is your friend and the only rule he ever made was “Judge not.”
- God (or the Church) is demanding and judgmental.
Either Jesus was a nice guy who had no moral expectations of his followers or God spends all his time angrily condemning people. Whichever way you go, the takeaway for most people is this: do what you want because all those rules are mean and irrelevant.
A quick read of the Gospels will demonstrate that option one isn’t rooted in reality. Jesus condemned sin, demanded purity and justice, and required virtue that went beyond external observance to conversion of heart.
But none of this is because God is domineering or capricious. Many of us have an image of an angry God devising arbitrary rules and cackling as we fail to follow them, securing our own damnation. God is more dictator than Father, we think, and his decrees are imposed from without, not written on our hearts.
But when Jesus asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I say?” I’m inclined to read it not in an angry voice but in a discouraged, disappointed voice.
“Oh, sweet child. You claim my name but you’re not living for me and that’s going to hurt you.” He’s not just concerned because your sin hurts him, he’s concerned because your sin hurts you.
Deuteronomy is conveying the same point: it’s not just that you need to choose the good and do God’s will so that you don’t get struck by lightning or sent to hell. You need to choose God’s will because living for God is life and living for self is death.
It’s a mark of Original Sin that we even need to be told this. We’re given a choice between life and death and evidently we’re inclined to deliberate. Somehow, our vision has become so distorted that when life and death are put before us we’re not sure what to choose. We can’t tell what’s good and what’s evil, what will heal and what will harm.
Moses begs us here: “Please, listen to the Lord. Follow his law and live. If you don’t, you will suffer. You will regret turning your back on the God who loves you.” It’s not a threat, it’s a plea.
But we value our autonomy more than we value our lives, so we refuse. Jesus tells us, “I have come that you might have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10), and still we don’t trust him. We don’t believe that drunkenness will threaten our lives, promiscuity break our hearts, and gossip ruin our relationships. Big sins or small, we do what we want and then wonder at the consequences.
And our sweet Lord weeps over our broken lives and stony hearts: “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and not do what I say?” Why do we reject his call to generosity, to forgiveness, to humility, to piety? Because we don’t know what will bring us peace. We choose what we think will make us happy but we don’t realize: there is no happiness apart from God.
Every rule in Scripture, every law explained by the Church exists because God loves you. You can choose death, build your house on sand, and run from the lover of your soul if you want; that’s your choice. But you were made for more. You were made for life.
Maybe you know this. Maybe you’re generally trying to be decent, to follow the Lord and do all the right things. But there are some areas that are just hard to surrender. Ask yourself: how is God’s commandment about judgment a reflection of his love? How does rejecting racism mean choosing life? Why does God’s mercy demand that I fight against petty selfishness? What’s the point of all the hoops I’m jumping through? I hope you’ll see that none of this is arbitrary. It’s the maker of your body and soul telling you how you work because he wants you to live in freedom and joy.
In some ways, the world’s misconceptions are right: Jesus is your friend. He’s also demanding. Because he loves you, he wants you to live, even if choosing life is often harder than choosing death. Choose Christ. Choose life. Because even when we can’t see how his law is love, Christ is life.