I have long loved this week’s Old Testament lectionary text, Deuteronomy 30:15-20. “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
These words are dear to my spirit . . . “choose life.” Yet as I read the passage this time around, I realize that the choice laid out is not nearly as simple as it seems.
I blame this uncomfortable realization on the juxtaposition of this Deuteronomy text with the Sermon on the Mount segment from Matthew 5:21-37. You know, all of that, “You have heard that it was said . . . but now I say to you.”
Distinguishing life from death should be easy. But it’s not. Moving away from curse and into blessing should be our natural tendency. But it’s not.
It strikes me that, in the Garden of Eden, what the serpent really did was to confuse Eve. He did not convince her to consciously choose death over life. He tricked her into thinking that disobeying God would give her more abundant life. Eve did not choose to be cursed with shame, with pain in childbirth. The serpent spoke only of the blessing that would come from eating the fruit.
“Choose life.” It sounds easy enough. But we live in a world where there are serpents behind every tree, trying to sell us products, philosophies, political agendas, lifestyles that they say will lead us toward life. So we buy the new car, vote the party line, attend the self-help seminars. And then the serpent slithers away and we look around to find we have been moving in the wrong direction. Or maybe just walking in circles.
“Choose life.” Interesting that this biblical phrase contains the key words for “opposing” sides in the abortion debate. I got a phone call once from an abortion rights organization. I think the caller sensed some hesitancy in my voice and she finally said, “You are pro-choice, aren’t you?”
“Well,” I said, “politically, yes.” What I didn’t tell her is that outside the realm of political-speak, I am most definitely pro-life. What I want to do is choose life. I want to choose life for myself. I want to work with God to create a world where each person is able to choose life. Life for infants. Life for prisoners. Life for soldiers. Life for creation.
Yahewh says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.” Jesus says, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”
The line between life and death, between yes and no, is often fuzzy for me. But God’s words in Deuteronomy, Jesus’ words in the Sermon, begin to illuminate a path.
I’m thinking now of the Taize song: “Bless the Lord, my soul. And bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord my soul, who leads me into life.”
May it be so.