Daily Devotions are published Tuesday-Saturday during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Leviticus 26:3-4;14-16 (NRSV)
If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce… But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandment… I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you[.]
These verses are pulled from today’s lectionary reading from Leviticus 26:1-20. Spoiler alert: Searching for psalmist balm or soaring gospel? Steer clear. There are 46 verses in the 26th chapter of Leviticus, 26 of which are the weeping and teeth gnashing variety aimed at prospective disobeyers. Still, there are lessons lurking behind God’s grave Word here. Let’s take a peek, shall we? Perhaps that’ll just have to do.
My guess is that John Calvin kept a copy of Leviticus under his pillow. It surely comes as no surprise that Calvin was big on obedience, downright nasty on disobedience. This comports with the stern, sullen, theological disciplinarian that is the Calvin we’ve come to know from traditional portrayals of the man. Caricatures, I should say, and ones that greatly disserve him by tempting all-too-thin interpretations of his theological principles. This is certainly true for Calvin’s understanding of obedience.
Calvin thinks of obedience in rich, functional terms. For him, obedience is elemental to the principal modes of knowing and loving God, especially faith and piety. For example, faith compels obedience to God and grows by obedience; obedience is both a means to an end and an end in and of itself; it is intrinsically and instrumentally valuable for us. As both spiritual and moral imperative, obedience intersects the inward and outward spheres of Christian life. More importantly, the believer’s inward love of God is linked to outward love of neighbor by obedience to God’s law and commandments. And, of course, the most profound form of love-as-obedience is found in Jesus Christ’s life and salvific work – it is through Christ’s obedience to God that we are redeemed.
Now, Martin Luther King, Jr. also was big on obedience – a good Calvinist?! It’s true. Regarding ideas about obeying God’s law and commands, they thought about it in the same way: as modeling Christ, as building faith and keeping covenant, as upholding the law’s integrity, as loving neighbor. But King went much further than Calvin ever could go; that is, within the limits of obedience to God, King found the freedom to disobey civil authorities. But his civil disobedience aimed at the same things as obeying God’s command: keeping covenant, loving neighbor, upholding the law’s integrity, building faith, sustaining community, modeling Christ.
Take that, Leviticus!
Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for this time together. Lord, please send us a little rain this season, or maybe a bit of peace. Perhaps that’ll just have to do. Amen.