Thoughts from Terce (the third hour, 9 a.m., Mid-Morning Prayer): from Psalm 18 (19)
The law of the Lord is spotless,
it refreshes the soul.
The teaching of the Lord can be trusted,
it gives wisdom to children.
The judgements of the Lord are right:
they give joy to the heart.
The precepts of the Lord are clear:
they give light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure:
it lasts through all ages.
The decrees of the Lord are true:
each one of them is just.
They are more desirable than gold,
than heaps of precious stones.
They are sweeter than honey,
than dripping honeycomb.
For most of us, the first we learn of God’s law is from Sunday school stories about people who’ve suffered horrible consequences for violating the law. The drowning of all creation, save one chosen boatload, in the story of Noah; the slaughter Moses orders after the Golden Calf; the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot’s wife turning to salt; Jonah being swallowed by a very large fish — these are the stories we teach our children, and that most of us carry with us into adulthood, about God’s law.
These stories are necessary, and it is appropriate we carry with us a (healthy) fear of God, and a desire to always follow Her ways. But, I think we do a disservice to ourselves and our children when we stop at these “follow the law or God will smite thee” lessons. There is another, deeper and more important, side to following God’s law, and it’s recounted in this Psalm.
The Law takes on new and different meaning in the word made flesh of Jesus Christ. In Matthew, Jesus draws from the Torah to explain how we should view the law — to give us the lens through which we view all of the law: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
All the law hinges on Love — on loving God, loving our neighbor, and thereby entering into and enacting the Love God gives us in Christ. Following and fulfilling the law, then, becomes much more about sharing in Christ’s Love for all Creation, and much less about “Follow these rules or I shall smite thee.”
In this new paradigm of Love as Law, our sins become those things we do which cut ourselves off from the light and Love of Christ. Not that Christ stops loving us — He does not — but that we close our eyes and our hearts to that Love through our sin — through our obstinate refusal to follow the law, which is to Love.
In this new view, the law truly becomes a fount of Love — not something to be dreaded, but a law of life and Love that “refreshes the soul … gives wisdom to children” and brings “joy to the heart” and “light to the eyes.” The law becomes less about fearing the wrath of God, and far more about fearing anything within ourselves which might obstruct our full oneness with and experience of God’s perfect Love. We fear not wrath, but of cutting ourselves off from the full experience of a Love that is “more desirable than gold, than heaps of precious stones … sweeter than honey, than dripping honeycomb.”
Lord God, give us eyes and hearts to see and understand your law, and to follow it willingly and with conviction. Help us to open our hearts fully, and set aside any vanity, pride, fear of selfishness, which hinder us in fully loving You, and fully loving our neighbor. Amen.