Sunday, April 17, 2005

"...With All Your Heart..."

Hear, O Israel! The Eternal is our God, the Eternal alone.
You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day.
Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up.
Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead;
inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

This past week in my Torah, Talmud and Mishnah class we've been reading selections from the Mishnah, the Jewish collection of legal and homiletical commentaries on Scripture. Specifically we've been reading commentaries on the Sh'ma, the twice-a-day recitation from the book of Deuteronomy that is a focal point of daily Jewish practice.

In the Sifre Devarim, an antecedent text, where rabbis comment on the Sh'ma point by point, one line really struck me. In talking about the phrase "You shall love the Eternal your God with all your heart...," there is the following interpretation:

...with all your heart: With both of your inclinations, both the good inclination and the evil inclination.

How on earth do you love God with both your good and evil inclinations?

This was a head-scratcher for me.

Then I thought about that aphorism of Brother Marty so beloved of Lutherans, "Sin boldly, and trust in the Lord more boldly still." Which itself hearkens back to Augustine of Hippo's advice to "Love God and do as you like."

It' s not always easy to tease out what is a good inclination and what is an evil inclination. Sometimes we do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Sometimes we do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Sometimes what seemed like absolutely the right thing to do was actually the wrong thing to do. Sometimes we just bamboozle ourselves.

Maybe the insight here is that, in a life that has been turned in a Godward direction, that lives itself out in a state of radical trust in God, even when we get it wrong we get it right, from God's perspective, because we did what we did in love...imperfect love, to be sure, love with a tendency toward self-interest, love that doesn't always understand all the consequences of one's actions, but love nonetheless. David -- one of the most full-tilt-boogie personalities in all of Scripture -- seems to embody this "Whatever you do, do it with all your might" way of living in the hand of God. So does Mary, Mother of Jesus, whose radical "yes" to God carried her all the way to the foot of the cross and beyond, even with her intermittent questions and even profound public doubts about her Son.

In Baptized We Live: Lutheranism As a Way of Life, Dan Erlander writes:

...we depend on [God] for our strength, our security, our validation. Thus the game is over. We are free! Free to embrace our humanity and to walk as creatures of this earth. Free to be weak, to be honest, to be interdependent, to be vulnerable, to LOVE. We are free to live at the foot of the cross! We are free even to die!

With all my heart -- that's how I want to love God.


*Christopher said...

A Great Post! Luther's paradoxical approach is something I come more and more to appreciate. Otherwise, we're left feeling self-righteous in our goodness and likely to act out our goodness on those bad people or hopeless in our badness and paralyzed into not living life at all.

bls said...

I agree: good one!

Tracy said...

Thanks for this great post; it's one you'd want to keep in your nightstand to pull out for reassurance when needed. By the way, I am another ELCA Lutheran girl. Not very computer savvy, but I enjoy your blog very much!