So far, Deuteronomy has talked a lot about being loyal to God’s commands and decrees, but has been relatively light on details. You have the ten commandments, then a forceful anti-idolatry line, but nothing of the specifics that have marked previous law passages. I’m assuming that will be coming soon enough – it looks to be a few chapters off – but Oremus gives this section the title of “The Essence of the Law.” “What does the LORD your God require of you?” (v 12) Love God and keep his commandments (v 13). And what are his commandments?
Well, I knew they’d have to get to the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. The Bible always seems to get back to that. What’s more, this chapter explicitly ties the idea of helping the orphan, the widow, and the stranger to God’s own nature. God, who “is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them with food and clothing.” (v 17-18) You have to look out for the marginalized, to help them, because God looks out for the marginalized and helps them. We’re to be more like God.
When I try to think of why I’m a theist in spite of, well, not a whole lot of hard evidence to support it, like Kant I keep coming back to the morality issue. I know that atheists can be moral, sometimes quite a bit more moral than Christians. But I’m using a Christian measure to judge them. And try as I might, without a transcendent Good (call it God, call it Dharma, whatever) of some kind outside of this fallible, mortal universe, the only image of the universe that feels consistent to me is the cosmic indifferentism of Lovecraft. Nothing we do ultimately matters. And, as in Lovecraft, that can drive you mad.
So is God my psychological coping method? Maybe. I often feel like I lack that “personal” connection to God that my sister-in-law has, who comes from a more Evangelical background. But I have a very strong moral connection, the idea that God is Good, not just as a transcendental moral plumb line, but as all goodness. When we do good, that’s God working in the world. And when you don’t, when you take a bribe, when you don’t execute justice for the widow and the orphan, when you don’t love the stranger, when you don’t provide them with food and clothing… well, you get the idea.
The Japanese: osameru “to store” (v 2), tazusaeru “to carry” (v 3), maisou suru “to bury” (v 6), sendou suru “to lead” (v 11), wairo “bribe” (v 17), mokugeki suru “to witness” (v 21).