Friday, June 20, 2008

The Old and New Covenants

In response to some questions I have received privately about my earlier post, "God is God!", here are some clarifications. I wish I had written that post more clearly to begin with, so that these issues would not have arisen.

First, it's true; we aren't under the law. St. Paul explains this quite well, I think, in the first half of Romans, Chapter 7.

But does this mean the Law of Moses just vanishes?

No! What happens to it is a bit like what happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly, or an egg when it becomes a bird. The caterpillar and the egg can be said to disappear, in a sense, but then again, they didn't just vanish, either. Instead, they matured into something else. And that's what our relationship with God does. It starts out based upon Law and then matures and morphs and is now, for the Christian, based upon love. (Love naturally does the right thing, without the Law needing to tell it to.) The old makes way for the new, and in that very process, is fulfilled.

"Fulfilled," in the Bible, means "is given its ultimate meaning" or "achieves its ultimate aim." An egg which never hatched would be a failure, and a caterpillar which never made it to the butterfly stage would likewise have failed to achieve its purpose. Similarly, the Law, which could never produce love or faith in our hearts, would have been a failure had it not given way to Christ. That was its purpose. (Galatians 3:24-25) In Christ, and in those who are His, the Law's purpose, which is to relate us rightly to God, is fulfilled by faith and by love. It's in that sense the Law is actually established in us: its purpose is achieved.

But note, the egg, in the very act of hatching, breaks. Similary, the Law as the basis for our relationship with God had to end. The Veil of the Temple had to be torn, from top to bottom.

Or, for another couple of analogies, consider that a two-year-old child is a wonderful creature, but if you come back to visit him in 15 years and the now 17-year-old child still looks and acts exactly the same, exactly like a two-year-old, something is very wrong. The toddler must give way to the teenager. Elementary school is something we have to leave behind to enter high school, and high school we leave behind to move on to college. Yet grade school being "established" in us is prerequisite for higher education: you have to know how to read, write, and do arithmetic. Grade school lives in us all our lives.

So there's a lovely paradox there. The very factor that establishes the Law, namely the Holy Spirit in the Church and in our hearts, also transcends it, moves past it.

But didn't at least some of the people who lived under the Law love God already?

Yes, they clearly did, but this assertion needs to be qualified.

First, they didn't know God as Christians do, because Christ had not yet come and taught and lived the Divine Life among us and died and risen. The Law was only a preliminary, preparatory revelation; Christ is the fullness of revelation. There's a lot more about God to love than people suspected in the days of the Law! Perhaps some of the prophets are an exception.

Second, we love God differently. Under the Law, God remained a deity external to His people. But since then, the Holy Spirit has been sent, who makes His home deep within the heart of the Church and of each Christian. We have this intimate sharing of His very Life within us. We are the branches and He is the Vine; or He is the Head and we are the rest of His body. Our encounter with God is no longer legal, but personal. The Holy Spirit prompts us, from within, to do whatever is right. There is no law, as St. Paul says, against the fruits the Holy Spirit within us bears.

God indeed created us to love Him; and in that sense, loving Him is natural. Yet, in our fallen condition, loving Him is not as easy as loving ourselves instead, not even for a Christian, not even assuming regeneration, that is. Nor did our fallen hearts, before the Holy Spirit took up His abode in us, guide us in HOW to love Him – in a concrete way, I mean, in the real world as distinct from in our imaginations. (In our imaginations, we love God so very deeply, but let a real-life situation or temptation arise to challenge that fantasy, and how often our love fails!) Now when our hearts did not spontaneously tell us what to DO in the way of loving God, that's when and why the Law was needed. It taught us how love behaves – again, in a preliminary and preparatory sort of way, until Christ showed us perfect love and perfect faith and perfect obedience.

And all the same things can be said about loving our neighbor. That, too, God created us to do, so it is a part of our true nature. Yet our true nature is so swamped by all the carnal baggage we now carry that to love one another hardly seems natural most of the time. Much less do our own hearts tell us, anymore, such things as that true love includes our enemies.

So yes, to the extent they knew the true God, people under the Law were not incapable of loving Him. King David comes especially to mind; who can read his Psalms and doubt he loved God? There were many others as well, exceptional people whose love of God transcended the Law. Yet their relationship with Him was still based upon the Law of Moses, whereas today, the Holy Spirit in the Church is its foundation, Who sheds abroad the love of God in our hearts.

And, by the way, the love we share with God and one another is NOT just another piece of Law! We are not doing it simply because God commands it. True, the Law does command us to love and so does Christ: love one another as I have loved you, He says, and He explicitly calls this a commandment. Nevertheless, there is a deeper dimension to Christian love than that, so much deeper it makes the legal aspect appear trivial in comparison. And burdensome, too, as everything law-based is.

Far from being a legal matter, genuine Christian love is something the Holy Spirit prompts in our hearts. And although it is a struggle to carry out His promptings, when we have done so we realize we have but fulfilled, in some degree, our own truest nature, the nature with which God orginally endowed us. We find it a matter of matchless joy. And that, rather than any law, is really the whole point. That is our restoration, liberation, re-creation, Christification, salvation. I do not say participation in God's love results in our salvation, as if salvation were earnable; it is it. Communion in God and one another in love is what salvation looks like.



Tony said...

Excellent post! I think the caterpillar analogy is a great one. The idea of the law "maturing" is a beautiful one to me that I need to remember for the future.

Incidentally, would you like to exchange links on our blogs? Don't worry, this isn't the ONLY reason I responded ;)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Yes, love to! I'm going to have a ball sinking my teeth into your blog.