Year B, Lent 5
Recently, there have been a lot of studies about whether humans are predisposed to believe in some kind of higher power. Some of these studies use information based on brain scans. Other studies research the beliefs of children or other controlled groups. What many of these studies have concluded is that we are hard wired to believe in something bigger than ourselves. What people have noted is that every culture, no matter how isolated it may be, develops some kind of religion that they adhere to.
Many people will hear this theory and use it as a critique of religious beliefs. Their contention is that we believe because we need to believe, not necessarily because it’s true. Yet when I consider how and why we are hardwired to believe, I think it provides proof of the existence of God. We are created to believe. It’s our default setting. God created us this way so we could have a relationship with him, so that not believing would be against our very nature.
Jeremiah is known as “the weeping prophet” as so much of this book is kind of depressing. He spends the majority of the first 30 chapters warning the Hebrew people that they need to repent or be punished. Their punishment will come in the form of a mass deportation. Babylon will invade and the majority of the Hebrew people will be sent into exile. Since we know that the people were exiled, it would appear that they did not heed the warnings of Jeremiah, which was pretty much the norm at this time and our time as well.
Beginning with chapter 30, we have a brief reprieve from the weeping and reprimanding. In these few chapters, Jeremiah tells the people that the days are coming when the Lord will make a new covenant and he will forgive their sins—not only forgive them, he will forget their sins. That is an important distinction because it means that God is wiping the slate clean. There will be no memories of wrong doing. I have always wished I could forget the things I have done wrong or wrongs that have been done to me. Alas…as humans, we can’t force ourselves to forget things. God can’t force us to forget things. God can choose to forget our sins, which is an incredible gift. That is what God has given to his people.
He also gave them something else, a new way to experience God’s law. Jeremiah wrote that when this new day arrived the law of the Lord would not be written on stone tablets, it would be written on their hearts. It would be seared into their very being. While God can choose to forget the sins of his people, the people will never be able to forget the law of the Lord.
Now when we think of law, it normally does not give us warm and fuzzy feelings. We perceive law as something that is imposed upon us. We follow laws because we have to and we will get punished if we do not. At the time Jeremiah was writing, some people perceived God’s law like this. Many of us still do. But that was never God’s intention (at least not that I know of).
Thus when Jeremiah says that the Lord will establish a new covenant, it’s not new in regards to the content. It’s not like God said, “Forget those 10 pesky commandments and that whole love God and your neighbor thing—we are trying something new.” No. The laws are essentially the same, but God was asking that people obey the laws not out of fear, but out of love for God. That is a huge transition to make. God knew that, which is why he said: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God was telling them and God is telling us that his love and his laws are now inscribed on our hearts. It is not some outside force coming and telling us how to act and what to believe, it is part of who we are. It is a good part of who we are.
I am not a scientist, so take this for what it is worth. Here’s my theory: what if that predisposition to believing in God is connected to this idea of God’s laws inscribed on our hearts? God knows that humans are a little weak at times and fickle a lot of the time. Thus when we were created, he inscribed his law on our hearts so that even those who know nothing of Christ or any organized religion walk through life with this feeling, this desire for more meaning in their life.
We see it all the time. I heard someone describe Soulcycle as their religion. If you do not know what it is, it’s a trendy exercise class where everyone gets in a dark room and rides on a stationary bike. There is loud music and someone screaming at you to try harder, to be better, to not give up. It’s called Soulcycle, which is not exactly subtle. It is clear what they are trying to accomplish. I go to a yoga class every week where the instructor gives us lessons on how to find meaning in our lives. She quotes all kinds of gurus and the people in the class love it….because that might be the only time in the week when they find a deeper connection and meaning.
We are hardwired to believe. God created us to want to believe. If we were to visualize the law written on our heart, it wouldn’t be a long list of rules. It would say something like, “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourselves.” God has written that law on our hearts. We know God. Deep down in each one of us, we know God. However, that does not mean we are off the hook. I know that eating a bunch of chocolate is bad for me. But that knowledge only helps if I actually resist the chocolate. We know God. That is the gift that God has given us all. The gift that we give to God, is to act in a way that proves that we know God.
One commentator wrote that “We talk about God like God is not in the room.” As someone who spends a lot of time talking about God, that really got my attention. It made me wonder if I would speak differently if I sensed God in the room. I feel pretty confident that I would act differently if I sensed his presence in a tangible way. We talk about what it is to know God. We talk about God’s presence with us. But I worry that we have made God too abstract. God’s intention was never to be part of a belief system. God’s intention has always been to be part of who we are. He has written his law of love on our hearts. He’s here, within each one of us.
Our world is a scary place right now. Perhaps it always has been. But I find hope in the knowledge that God has carved out a spot in every human on this planet. It is up to us as Christians not only to act in a way that reflects that law inscribed in our hearts, but be witnesses to God’s presence in other people, in every person. We know God. That is the gift that God has given us all. The gift that we give to God, is to act in a way that reflects that knowledge.
Above quote from Karoline Lewis http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5114