Exodus, Christianese, and Middle School
I had three experiences this week that are coalescing in my head to reveal something about God.
Yesterday at work, I nobly endured ridicule from one of my staff over my use of Christianese. She was right to chide me. I sometimes spend so much time with church people that I don’t realize I’m speaking church language that anyone outside the church would think totally bizarre. And the church word I use most is “heart."
We Christians do a whole lot of things with our hearts. We guard them and nurture them and hide stuff in them. We lift our hearts to God and we talk about the desires of our hearts. We even pray for God to open the eyes of our hearts, which is either a profound metaphor or a really poor understanding of anatomy. In our practice of the Christian life, the heart seems to play a pivotal role.
This week, I have also been reading Exodus. The second half of our Bible’s second book reads less like Christianese and more like legalese — laws and standards, measurements and instructions. God used very precise and objective language to prescribe exactly how the tabernacle should be built and sacrifices should be made. Reading those chapters, it occurred to me that they make no mention of the heart. God did not say to Moses, “Build a tabernacle as an act of worship from your heart. Make it nice.” He did not ask for Moses’ affections; he demanded Moses’ obedience.
My daughter is growing up. She’s in middle school, and she's starting to test boundaries. Christine and I are realizing that we can’t keep her in the cradle forever. We have to let her learn some lessons without us. Our parenting has to start shifting from control and protection to influence and guidance.
At first glance, these three snippets of my week seem completely disconnected, but there is a theme. I think God’s covenant relations with his people follow a pattern of parental love. He is raising us, as a species, toward maturity. He is fathering us from the cradle of ignorance and barbarity toward wisdom and shalom. God’s eons-long parenting seeks to prepare humankind for the new heavens and new earth just as Christine and I are trying to prepare our daughter for the new realities of adulthood.
In Israel’s infancy, God gave Moses rules and boundaries. He was heavy on protection and providence. But Jesus struck a different tone. Jesus seemed more interested in leading than controlling; he celebrated love more than obedience. Can you imagine Jesus giving his disciples step-by-step, cubit-by-cubit instructions for how to clear the temple or prepare the Passover? The God of the Old Testament is no different than the God of the New, but he chose to interact differently with his people. In the Sermon On the Mount, he chose to raise the bar of faith. In issuing a new law, he chose to replace burden with freedom. In his crucifixion, he chose to embody that which was theoretical.
Now, I’m not saying that the human race has progressed to the point that the rules no longer apply to us. As my daughter grows into greater freedoms, I want her to continue to remember the truths that our house rules have taught her. I’m also not saying that humanity will ever reach an adulthood wherein we are as mature as our Father. The parent metaphor for God is often accurate and helpful, but it breaks down in that regard. God is not an older, wiser version of us. He is categorically beyond us.
But the truth remains: a parent’s relationship changes as their child grows, and so it is with our heavenly Parent. It’s appropriate that a middle-schooler stretch her wings a little. It’s appropriate that her dad worry when she does. And it’s appropriate that followers of Jesus pay much attention to their hearts, even if it means we talk funny.