“Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?’ 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it.” Deut 30:11-14
I’ve been thinking lately about the age my parents were when they hit major life landmarks, compared to my age now. It’s quite hard to comprehend that they were only this old when I was in the sixth form (which was surely not so long ago…) I saw them as such an authority figure, but now I know that whatever age you are, you don’t suddenly feel like you know what you’re doing. I hope I never feel like I’ve answered all the questions.
Mentions of the film ‘Back to the Future’ recently got me looking up the script online, and I spent a couple of enjoyable hours reading it: I could see how the writers had some interesting themes going on there that were perhaps not so evident when you’re absorbed in just watching the movie. They make it clear, for example, that in 1955 the town is thriving and full of people on a Saturday morning because an out-of-town mall has not yet sucked the life out of it.
Yet I well remember the excitement when a huge supermarket arrived in my town in my early teens. We could shop the large aisles with their smooth floors and hitch a lift as we wheeled the shopping around. We enjoyed the choice and the evidence of abundance and the new inventions of the 1980s food industry (and what could possibly be bad about that?) It was around that year my mother went back to work and we saw her in a whole new light; a microwave arrived in our kitchen, and modernity seemed to hit us in several ways in a short period of time. It was exciting to go and see such abundance, to have access to products that had been marketed at us, and it was probably a lot quicker for my parents than shopping in the town centre. Now, we’re often striving in the opposite direction, if we can, and I’m glad that my local area has a great butcher, fishmonger and greengrocer, and isn’t entirely given over to estate agents and smelly candle purveyors.
God taught the Jewish people to place a high value on passing on the stories of what God had done for them, to the next generation, and teaching them God’s ways, so that they know how their loving heavenly Father can keep them thriving.
Chatting with friends of varying ages we can see the pattern of choosing and rejecting the ways of our parents, as in distinct areas of life one generation copies aspects of the parents’ behaviour without question, and in other ways rejects them to an extreme – so that an error isn’t necessarily corrected by sometimes highlighted by its mirror image in the next generation. I’ve met people who express everything because they experienced their parents’ self-control as repression, and I’m sure all of us could think of ten other examples of extremes being corrected for as the children react and overreact to what’s gone before.
The context of the verses above is that God has set out how he wants his people to live, his laws in other words, and set out the corresponding blessings and curses that his people can expect if they follow, or not, his rules for a healthy life.
What is extraordinary about the good news of the kingdom of God being available to us, is that we have available to us the very presence of God himself, his energy at work in us, in the person of God the Holy Spirit. And so we get to live as people accepted by God, and close to him. This is only so because Jesus did what he did and God poured out his Holy Spirit after that.
As believers in Jesus, we get to acknowledge that those words are true in even more dimensions for us than they were for the Jewish people – “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so that you may obey it”.
We don’t obey God because we fear punishment – usually. We obey him because what we want increasingly matches what he wants, as we mature as Christians. His spirit is at work in us helping us feel joy when we feel his pleasure; understanding our missteps when we make them. We don’t have to live in reaction to the errors of the past. We have a heavenly Father, who teaches us his ways. And he says he doesn’t think they are too difficult for us.