What a fellowship, what a joy divine! Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!
First verse of the hymn, What a Fellowship
In the last post, I laid out one understanding of a narrative arc in scripture going from creation to crisis to community to Christ to church to culmination. And like all human understandings there are pros and cons to this idea. One drawback is that it does not emphasize enough the word, covenant. Our modern day understanding of covenant tends to conflate or confuse it with contract. While culturally there are similarities, I think within Scripture the two are not synonymous. A contract has a legal aspect and well-defined consequences for breaking the contract. If I decide to jump ship from Verizon and go to AT&T, there is a well-defined financial consequence for that choice. We are bound by contracts from the places we live to the credit cards we carry to even our jobs. So, it makes sense that we view covenant through that same lens, it is convenient and seems to be the way the world works.
Yet, a covenant is different. A covenant is a vow made between to people. A covenant is most concerned with the relationship. Marriage vows are a covenant. When my wife and I exchanged vows, we made a covenant to each other. We did not sign our names on a dotted line with those words printed above, we looked each other in the eyes. We did not talk about "early termination fees" or ways the vows would be "null and void", although there were implicit, if unspoken, ideals about what it meant to live out and live up to the words we were saying. What I remember most is our final words of our vows, "I give myself to you as I am, as I will be, and I do it for all of life." There is an elasticity to covenants that a contract simply cannot capture.
Often, when we think about the 10 Commandments, Exodus 20 (click here to read), we read that as a kind of contract. When that is the mindset we bring, it means that if you break one of those commandments, there is, "Gonna be some splaning to do" to quote Desi from I Love Lucy. Or some even preach that God is going to have some smiting to do. But what if these are viewed through the lens of a covenant? Of God's relationship with us? God's vow of connection? God's hope for our lives? Like wedding vows, God looks into our eyes and says, "I desire to be at the center of your life; I ask you to not confine me in easily understood boxes, I pray you will not causally throw my name around..." That is a different way of reading. Perhaps we prefer to keep the commandments as more of a contract. But I wonder if we do this so we can stay in control? Because if the commandments are primarily about us, then the onus is only on us, not equally on God, then we are in the drivers seat. But all relationships, all good relationships, are about mutuality. Covenants are about mutuality, a willingness to dance and have a give and take with each other.
In the next two posts, I will comment on the Ten Commandments. But for now, I offer you the chance to ponder prayerfully if viewing these Ten statements as covenant in our unfolding relationship with God might be helpful. I pray it is and I pray you sense more than a trace of God's grace as you do so.