This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.
Now choose life.
Deuteronomy 30:19 (NIV)
Moses goes out with a bang. He wraps up the Law and reconfirms the covenant. But it’s not over. Don’t forget about the spoils.
God will reward obedience with prosperity. Those who are scattered will be brought together. Lost fortunes will be found. God will open your heart far enough to love, and He will delight in your existence.
But the draw of reward cannot exist without the possibility for punishment. For disobedience, the Lord will let charity and compassion die. Crops will die. Peace will die. Foreigners will infest the land and bring with them plagues and famine. Sickness will be plenty. Slavery will be reinstated. Moses caps this list of curses with an ominous declaration: “You will live in constant suspense, filled with dread both night and day, never sure of your life” (Deuteronomy 28:66).
Then Moses climbs a mountain, watches his people enter the Promised Land, and dies.
That’s the Law people.
I am not surprised by this black-and-white conclusion. On the contrary, this section’s existence and presentation perfectly exemplify one of my biggest hang ups with the Judeo-Christian tradition – fear as motivation. Moses rattles off 24 verses of blessings as compared to 53 on curses, and this one-to-two ratio generalizes the tone of the first five books of the Bible. Frankly, this has been a negative journey so far. I do not mean negative in my experience, but rather, I never expected to read the word “no” so many times.
The choice is set out before us, Moses says before his passing. “Choose life.” He makes a pretty great case for choosing life – or choosing obedience – and it is 53 verses long. Moses may as well left off the other 24 verses, because they mean nothing to me. I am making a philosophical distinction here: the differing levels of motivation that positive versus negative reinforcement provide. And for me, it is all negative. I am far more motivated by the punishments of Christianity than the spoils.
Choose life. Choose life. This phrasing absolutely baffled me when I first read it, so much so that I spent days unable to move past it. It has completely rocked my worldview. Because I am realizing that my definition of “life” has no similarity to Moses’. At least I feel like they are different. My view of life involves generalizing morals into an ever evolving thought process. The Bible’s perspective appears much more rigid and based on criteria.
I am entering a new section of the Bible, which outlines the rise of the Israelites and the birth of the prophets. And I am now on the lookout for what a life of God looks like. If it is fear-based, then I may succumb to belief from anxiety, but nothing more. If it means something entirely different, then maybe… maybe it will all make sense.