“Rather than viewing the law as restrictive, we must see that it is ordered to our happiness and flourishing.”
Moses makes the moral life sound quite simple. “You have only to carry it out.” Contrary to the false definition of freedom and message of autonomy that the world tends to give, the first reading this coming Sunday reminds us that the laws of the Lord are good, simple, and near to us (Dt. 30:10-14).
The commands of the Lord are not esoteric or hidden. We don’t need some secret knowledge, like the Gnostics taught. Knowledge of the law is not meant for only a few.
Moses tells the people, “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’”
To obey the Lord doesn’t require us to be some ancient sage or climb a mountain to seek one out. It doesn’t mean we need to complete a set of puzzles in order to come to a final solution. God doesn’t desire to hide it from us. He wants us to know his expectations and commands, because it is in following these rules that we find true happiness. Our Creator knows how the creation will flourish.
Sometimes we treat God and the moral life as if it’s all a big trap. We act as if God has set down these commandments and then watches for an opportunity to trick us. Maybe we get stuck in a cycle of discernment and worry that we are never going to “figure out” what God is asking of us, and therefore never be happy.
Moses assures us here that we shouldn’t stress about a trap. We shouldn’t worry that we’re never going to know what God is asking of us. He’s not looking to hide it from us. He loves us and wants what is best for us. His commands are not to trap us, but to lead us to happiness.
We should read Deuteronomy with the New Covenant in mind. “For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you…No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” The words of Moses are even more striking when you know the second half of the story. The law of God is not mysterious or remote; it is not far away. It is something very near…
Because the Law, the Word, has become flesh for us.
St. Paul alludes to this instruction from Moses in Romans 10:6-8, revealing to the Jewish people of Rome that the Lord has come to fulfill the Law, and what is required of us is belief and faith in Jesus Christ. It is not that the commandments are no longer necessary, but that they find their end in Him.
The law is written on our hearts. Ultimately, the law is not a restrictive set of commands and thou shalt nots. It is a relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not easy to remain faithful, but grace and the sacramental life of the Church makes this difficult task possible. Strengthened by His Body and Blood, nourished with His life, the difficulty of remaining faithful becomes an “easy” and “light” burden (Mt 11:30).
The moral life must be viewed in context of this relationship. Our God desires to have a relationship with us: He loves us and desires a return of that love. Rather than viewing the law as restrictive, we must see that it is ordered to our happiness and flourishing.
The commands of the Lord are only as restrictive as the owner’s manual to our car. My owner’s manual tells me I need to fill the tank with gasoline. How restrictive! Don’t I have the freedom to fill the tank with water? It would be far cheaper that way. Change my oil every 5,000 miles? How dare you tell me what to do. I can do whatever I want. I’m free. It’s my car.
Well, it is my car. But perhaps I should listen to the creator of the car, who knows it best. I am free to do whatever I want with my car. But if I fill the tank with water and neglect to change the oil, and I’ll be far from free. I’ll be stranded somewhere.
The commands of God are as restrictive as the directions to a Lego set. Yes, I can do whatever I want with these blocks – build whatever I want. But if I want to build the car or airplane or castle that’s depicted on the box – perhaps it would be best if I followed the instructions.
“You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15:14). There are certain demands of love. But those demands are embraced willingly – not as rules that keep us down, but as claims on my heart. If I love my spouse, I don’t want to do things that will hurt him or her. I love my best friend, so I won’t want to gossip about her and hurt her reputation. My love compels me to behave in a certain way, act a certain way, and protect our relationship.
So we don’t obey the commandments because we have a vengeful God who wants to trick us. We don’t do certain things like fast or sacrifice because we need to prove our love to him. Rather, we obey his commands because we are his friends. Because He created us and he knows what will make us flourish. Because we love Him and He loves us.
He has written His law on our hearts…in love.
“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you…No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”
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