Sunday, October 12, 2008

"For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life"

2 Corinthians 3

"A New Covenant, not of letter but of spirit"


"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses' face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory!"


Paul uses strong language here to speak of the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses. "The Ministry of Death." Moments later however, he softens his tone a little and says, "ministry of condemnation." Still strong language.

What is he saying?

"What once had glory"


"Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!


Ah, softer still. What once had glory has been surpassed by a greater glory.

"A veil over their minds"


"Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."


I haven't familiarized myself with the material that people have used through the ages to claim anti-semitism by Paul or base their own anti-semitism on Paul but a quick read of this chapter makes it fairly easy to see how it might be used for that purpose.

But... what is he really saying?

I have always been amazed by the obvious contradiction in fundamentalist Christians heavy reliance on Old Testament teachings over the New Testament teachings of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, their insistence on the bible as the literal, inerrant word of God despite the fact that so much of it is quite obviously written as mythical allegory; that Christ taught in interpretive parables more often then not; and that portions are clearly stated to be revelatory dreamwork.

In other words, a book full of things intended to be personally interpreted and not taken as literal face value and yet they claim it is to be taken literally.

Putting aside these obvious inconsistencies and conflicts lets take a look at just what Paul has to say here in this short chapter.

”Written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God”

"You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."


The Old Covenant was a glorious thing. Moses had to veil himself after he received the commandments from God because the Glory of God shone so brightly on his face that the people could not safely gaze upon that Glory's reflection on his face.

However... that Glory lost its power upon the realization of a Greater Glory. "Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!"

The New Covenant in Jesus Christ is the "greater glory." The Old Covenant was that of the law of Moses. It said what thou shalt not. It was the "ministry of condemnation." It was the letter of God's law. The Spirit of God's law exists in creation. It can be seen everywhere in everything. It is a living, breathing thing. Human language is a limited vehicle that cannot encompass God's law.

God's law, the living law of the living God, is not written in ink, it is not chiseled in stone, but rather written in Spirit on human hearts. Even more, it is written in the heart of all creation.

Humankind is of limited capacity. Our language reflects that. Our languages are even more limited then we are. They are our best attempt to understand and express, to define (and thereby limit), what has been written in our hearts by the living Spirit.

At one time, in one place, it was necessary for God's law to be written in concrete, definite terms of what thou shalt not and what thou shalt. At another time and place, Jesus Christ came along and expressed God's Law in parable and further in a description of the conditions that create and are the blessings of the Spirit.

Language was still limited but a manner of conveying the message beyond the direct capacity of language was found. It requires thought, prayer, contemplation, discussion, interpretation, meditation, and observation of God's law at work in natural creation. This is how the letter written on our hearts is prepared and made available to be read by all when they read the part of God's law at work in the small portion of natural creation that we are.

"A new covenant, not of the letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

We see this today in the culture of hate, fear, violence, and death that is the fundamentalist movement.

Strong words? Yes. But sadly, true.

The insistence on a literal interpretation of the limited human words with which the bible has been written kills the message. It crucifies the Lord all over again. It kills the Spirit and condemns the Living God to a death about 2500 years ago.

A demand for a literal interpretation of the bible cuts off the living human spirit today from searching for personal understanding of the life giving word, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

Throughout the centuries humans have called for their fellows to be still, to quiet themselves, and listen to the small voice of God within their hearts. To look for the light that shines from within. The Word is to be found there. The digital words I have linked to here, the ink words I read in my bible this morning that lead me to write this are a ministry of death without coming into intimate embrace with the Word written in our hearts. A literal bible is a dead bible full of dead words that become a ministry of death without the influence of the Spirit of the living God that can only be found deep within our hearts.

”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”

"Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit."


The Peace of the Lord be always with you,

Andrew

1 comment:

Barry said...

Thank you for a fascinating post. Zen teachers instruct us not to attach to "name and form." The letter kills, and so does the shape.

But if we cannot attach to name and form, then how do we function in the world?

Through spirit. But how do we bring this spirit alive within ourselves? Jesus spent 40 days on retreat, wrestling with the devil. That's probably good advice for all of us - take the time, make the effort, to wrestle with our own devils.

Thanks again,
Barry