Friday, July 16, 2010

Flirtations and Affairs

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6.4-5)

The Way I Always Heard It Should Be

A lot of us read the phrase above and instantly heard Carly Simon’s hit. In the song, she’s considering a marriage proposal—working her way through the issues, assessing its merits based on her parents’ experience, and deciding if she’s agreeing to marry because she truly wants to or because she feels pressured to say yes. In the end, she accepts. But all of her doubts haven’t been resolved, and one gets the sense they may remain with her always. That’s the beauty of the song—its sense of stepping out on faith despite all of the visible evidence and internal questions that recommend turning down her suitor.

Our commitment to God is no less difficult. When He calls to us—declaring His undying love, and vowing to be our sole companion, provider, and protector—there’s a lot to work through. We’ve always heard it should be this way. Yet before we commit, there are issues to weigh. We’ve observed how lifelong relationships with God can flourish. We’ve also seen how often they lapse into doldrums, with one party going through the motions while the Other competes with distractions to make His love known. We’ve witnessed many who committed their lives to God, simply to conform to outside pressures. Relationships of this last kind seldom endure. At best, they devolve into a “name-only” arrangement. More likely, they end in estrangement.

We’re right to evaluate these possibilities before we accept God’s offer. We’re also wise to reckon with the reality that doubts causing us to hesitate may never be allayed. There will be days we may wish we hadn’t committed—moments when the sacrifices and confinements of monogamy will overshadow its benefits and comforts. Those days will require conscious discipline to stay true. We’ll need to fall back on faith this thing will work, because everything we see and sense will urge us to let go. In these moments of doubt we exchange “The Way I Always Heard It Should Be” for another Carly Simon song: “(Loving You Is) The Right Thing to Do.”

The One

We open Deuteronomy 6 and hear Moses declare: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (v4) As Christians burdened with our complex—some would say, problematic—Trinitarian doctrine, we’re apt to assume he’s referring to God the Parent, God the Child, and God the Spirit. But no such doctrine exists for Israel. In a culture dominated by three monotheist faiths, we’re equally prone to believe the “one God” concept is a similarly easy purchase for Israel. It is not. They’ve always heard that’s the way it should be. But they’re surrounded by a lion’s share of evidence to the contrary. They’ve witnessed lapses—flirtations and affairs with idolatry—in their ranks. They’ve opened their community to polytheist fellow travelers, whose alternative faith approaches seem to work fine for them. So Israel has doubts. Moses strives to change their tune from “The Way We Always Heard It Should Be” to “The Right Thing to Do.” That’s why he follows his declaration with this: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” (v6)

In telling Israel its God is “one,” Moses says, “He’s the One”—the Perfect Partner. He urges Israel to accept God’s proposal, because there can be no better offer. Then he urges them to commit to the relationship. “Love God with all your heart,” he says. In ancient terminology, the heart governs existence. Loving another with all your heart removes all boundaries, making the two of you inseparable. Loving someone with all one’s soul demands a bottomless emotional commitment, a passion for the other that can’t be shaken by third-party promises or seduction. That’s why a durable and fulfilling relationship with God takes all of one’s strength. Temptations to flirt with other gods, literally and figuratively, has enormous appeal. Our fascination with new ideas and experiences makes us easy prey for enticements. But when we focus our entire strength on staying faithful to God, we remain true in our hearts and souls. We can’t be dissuaded He’s the One. Our conviction that loving Him is the right thing to do will not wane, despite inner doubts and contradictory evidence.

30 Words

In two sentences—30 words—Moses explains the difference between loving God and entering a monogamous relationship with Him. It’s easy to love God, since He loves us, whether we love Him or not. But He will never have us and we will never be His until we say yes to His proposal and totally commit to our union with Him. While we weigh issues involved with committing to this relationship, we should be realistic. No offer will ever be better. He’s the One.

Ironically, awareness of God’s unconditional love often beguiles us to believe flirtations and affairs with other suitors are harmless—innocent, even. God will always forgive our silliness and welcome us home. And that’s true. When we come to our senses and run back to Him, no love will be lost between us. But what have we lost in the process? We’ve given our hearts to false notions and gods. We’ve surrendered our emotions. We’ve compromised our strength. It is we, not He, who suffer. The damage to the relationship rests with us.

When Pharisees taunted Jesus with an impossible test, asking Him to select the most important commandment, He quoted Deuteronomy 6.5, calling it “the first and great commandment.” First—the best. Great—all-encompassing. God is the One. Loving Him is the right, the only, the best thing to do.

There’s a difference between loving God and entering a monogamous relationship with Him.

Postscript: Comment Challenge

In trying to convey what Moses means by “God is [the] One,” I turned to the phrase “Perfect Partner.” Now I turn to you. What makes God your Perfect Partner? What aspects of your relationship seal your commitment? This is a chance to share in a glorious, communal God lovefest. Take a moment to share your thoughts or experiences… Thanks.


kkryno said...

God IS the One.

He's the One I go to when I'm depressed. He's the One I go to when I'm worried. He's the One I go to when I'm scared. He's the One I go to when I'm confused. He's the One I go to when I'm happy.

I even go to Him when I'm "meh!"

I don't really pray formally. I have a sort of stream of consciousness type of communication with God; although I try not to be a pest!

If it is an urgent concern, I do revert to the more formal type of communication with Him, out of respect to convention.

I do believe that He listens to us no matter how we try to communicate our thoughts and desires to Him.

I don't really identify with any set "religion" at this stage in my life, but I totally embrace the concept of God, Christianity, and His Love for us.

Your forum is a place where I feel safe in that expression, because acceptance is so important.

Thanks, Tim. :)

Tim said...

Vikki, so much of what you describe here is exactly what being "in relationship" with God is--open and free communication; knowing He'll be there without having to "dress up" for Him; staying in constant touch, not just talking to Him for a few minutes each day; knowing He's listening all the time.

As to "religion," I tend to think of it as the extended family of in-laws we inherit when we commit to God. Some of us get welcomed right in and find everyone in the particular denomination--or Christianity as a whole--a delight. Others of us get the distant, polite treatment. And, sadly, some of us are told not come around at all.

None of that matters. We didn't commit to a religion. We committed to God. Neither He nor we can control who joins the family, the traditions that evolve in it, and the mistakes it makes.

That said, every family has good eggs, like you and everyone else God has blessedly brought to this place. I've never thought about S-F in this way, but your comment makes me see it as a big ol' carton filled with love, acceptance, and freedom!

So it is you and everyone who must be thanked. I'm so grateful for you!


Sherry Peyton said...

YOu know, when I think of the Hebrews and the prophets, I always think of people who say yes to God, but want to hedge their bets (with other deity worship). we are much the same, I realize now. We say yes, but then we figure we should fiddle and manipulate "just in case". We are scared to death I think of unconditional love, because of what it asks of us. Thanks for a great provoking post Tim.

TomCat said...

Just a side note, Tim. The word for one in the passage is not the 'one' used in counting or representing singularity. It's only other use is referring to a bunch of grapes as one fruit. Thus it redlects commonality and unity rather than singularity.

Tim said...

Sherry, your point is spot-on. Our fondness for just-in-case scenarios exposes the weak points in our faith. We trust God only so far, and then we dally off to other "deities"--our investments or our social status or our knowledge.

It's a tail-chaser. How can we learn to trust God in every area of our lives without committing fully to Him; yet how difficult that commitment is without knowing we can trust Him! It is a leap of faith, indeed! And I think that's at the heart of being "scared to death of unconditional love." (Love that, BTW.) Because God's unconditional love pulls the floor out from us by removing every reason not to trust Him.

Tom, thanks for the clarification--and I should have pointed that out in the post. What makes God the One is indeed the wholeness of Him. I believe this is what John alludes to in the preface to his gospel: "Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." (1.3) In the context of the post, one might imagine Moses saying to modern believers, "Why would you divide your affections among many gods, when all that is, is contained in the LORD?" And while the word he uses connotes unity, I'm apt to think he chooses it as a means to remind Israel (and us) God is unique--the God above all gods.

Your comment makes me wish I'd explored this in greater depth! Thank you.

Thanks to both of you. I'm always delighted by what each of you brings the writing.