This is part five of a series on the “Shema” (Deut 6:4-9). Here is part one of this series on biblical simplicity at the Gospel Coalition site. Part two, about our “heart, soul, and strength.” Part three about the centrality of the Shema in the prayer of Jesus in John 17. In part four, I look at how God works over a lifetime to form in us a life of simple love.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your self and with all your strength.” Deut 6:4–5
Before going into the ministry, I worked in a public relations firm in Washington, D.C. Like any agency that handles a large amount of client work, there would be times when we would take two clients who were competitors in the same industry. When such a conflict arose, the firm would be required to create an internal wall to separate the teams working on the competing clients. Members of each team were forbidden from talking to one another about their client work, desks were sometimes moved to prevent accidental sharing of knowledge, curtains were drawn in the glass conference room when team meetings were conducted. Logistical headaches ensued.
As you can imagine, our firm did not like to have too many internal walls in place at any given time because of the way it affected productivity. We were a large firm, but these internal divisions effectively cut the capacity of the team to a fraction of what was actually available. As a result, there was often a collective sigh of relief when one or another of the clients moved to another office or another firm, because we could go back to being a whole office again.
Let me offer this paradigm. the internal walls of the self, personal fragmentation, are the fruit of sin, and they hinder the whole-hearted love to which we are called in Deut 6:4-9.
Think about the process, the negotiations, you have to go through when you consciously disobey the Lord. Whether the disobedience is public or private, the process is often the same. Before you do what you do, you have to say first to the Lord, “You cannot be my God right now.”
You may do this through actively rejecting his Lordship over you or selectively forgetting about him—a convenient amnesia.
Sin requires us to consciously or unconsciously recite this pitiful liturgy:
I know that you are one Lord, and I am willing to acknowledge that at times in my life. I am willing to say there is none beside you, but right now, I have someone or something else that needs to be beside you, in front of you, before you, something or someone else that I want to worship.
You may be present when I worship, but you cannot be present when I am bored and looking for something to amuse me. You cannot be present when I need to feed my ego, you cannot be present when I talk to this person and need to set myself over against them. You cannot be present when my kids are driving me crazy at the end of a hard day and I have just been stretched a millimeter too far.
This liturgy need not be recited in full. It can be performed in the flash of a thought, an emotion, an inward turning way, crouching beneath the verdant wall of foliage out of sight of the Lord who comes to walk in the garden in the coolness of the day. The fruit of the fall is our inward division and separation from the Lord.
That is where we build our own internal walls, and that is where fragmentation happens.
Repentance on the other hand is bringing our walls before the Lord and asking him to tear them down.
Repenting Toward Wholeness
Repentance is often portrayed as a labor, a task, but it is better understood to be a gift. See how the Psalmist asks for it in Psalm 139.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psa 139:23-24)
Repentance means turning our internal walls over to the Lord.
|Pink Floyd’s Wall
Repentance is saying, “I want simple love—my whole heart, my whole person, all of my worldly effect (Deut 6:4-9)—directed toward the worship of the one Lord and the service of his image on this earth, my neighbors.”
Repentance does not derive its power from self-loathing, or being able to name a litany of sins, or putting oneself down in order appear humble.
Rather, repentance is a gift of God, a stance in life that says,
I know my true rest is in the Lord, that I love him best when I love him simply, and I want that in my life. The Lord has promised that he will accomplish this in me through his Spirit.
Biblical repentance means tearing down the walls of your heart before the Lord and inviting him to fill the space. It means removing the secret rooms where you can serve other gods in private. Because the Lord is one, his Spirit works to unify the heart of the believer around simple love.
Finally, repentance flourishes in community. This series began with a mention of Henry David Thoreau’s search for simplicity. Thoreau believed he had to be alone to gain simplicity, but biblical simplicity does not work that way. Simple love cannot be found alone in a cabin in the Connecticut woods.
The Spirit works through the community, gathering in worship, celebrating the sacraments, praying with and for one another.
Community and its compatriot intimacy are perhaps best understood as shared wholeness.
Wholeness of the individual requires wholeness of the community. The church is not perfect, far from it, but we are called to co-labor lovingly and supportively, and when we fail, we repent to one another and receive one another back in forgiveness.
That is the simplicity of the love to which those who are in Christ have been called.