Musings from the Manse 17 January 2021

The Call to Worship for our covenant service, from Jeremiah 31, says this:

31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD,
 when I will make a new covenant
 with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 

33 But this is the covenant
 that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,
 says the LORD:
 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.”

But what does it mean, when God says he will write his law on people’s hearts? We’re obviously using more metaphorical, symbolic language, for God isn’t going to literally carve words on the organ beating away in our chest.

Today we tend to think about the heart as the seat of the emotions, particularly emotions such as compassion and love. The heart symbolises love, particularly romantic love – think of all those Valentine Day cards we’ll be sending (or receiving) in a month’s time. In contrast with the heart the head is the logical, reasoning part of ourselves. In actual fact science tells us our thoughts and feelings all come from the brain – the heart is just a muscular pump – but this is the language of metaphor, of poetry. So we feel with our heart and think with our head.

Now for the ancient Hebrews, the heart wasn’t just associated with emotions, but with the rational, decision-making part of us as well. So, when Jeremiah speaks of God writing his law on our hearts, he doesn’t just mean that we will have a warm and fuzzy emotional feeling toward God; he means that the desire to put God’s will and purposes into practice will be absolutely engrained in our deepest being. 

For some reason I’m reminded of those sticks of rock that my home town of Brighton is famous for. Wherever you break them or bite them, they still say Brighton Rock, for the words go all the way through. God’s law will be written on our hearts – the Hebrew word for law is Torah, which also means teaching and instruction.  It’s actually very close to what Paul meant when he wrote to the Romans: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:2)

These ideas are brought together in the hymn ‘O for a heart to praise my God’. It is really a prayer for a heart that is cleansed, changed and renewed. In the last line Charles Wesley asks that God will write a ‘new name’ on his heart. And what is that word? The word is love. The word that summarises the whole of the law. That’s what we need God to inscribe in our innermost beings, so we are people guided, motivated, ruled by love.

Rev Nik Wooller

17th Jan 2021

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