Love written on our hearts

The prophet Jeremiah received his call to be a prophet in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah. That would be 626 BCE. The book of the prophet continues past the siege and capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586. Most scholars place the death of Jeremiah around 570 BCE. That means that our people have been talking about the prophet for more than 2500 years. We were talking about him yesterday when our worship focused on Jeremiah 31:31-34, a beautiful description of his vision which dreams of a day when God’s law isn’t a mater of external legalisms for our people, but rather an internal knowledge that comes from deep within each individual. He speaks of God’s law written on the hearts of the people.

We didn’t go into it in depth yesterday as the timing of our worship didn’t allow us to explore all of the nuances of the text, but Christians have long debated whether Jeremiah’s vision is something that remains in the future - as yet unfulfilled - or as something that has come to pass. That is a complex argument that is too extensive for a journal post, but to put it in a simple frame, at least consider the possibility that what Jeremiah saw as the future as he sought to reassure the people following the fall of their city and the capture of its people has now become the past as we look at it from a vantage point a couple of millennia and more later.

What if God’s law has already been written on our hearts?

I see plenty of evidence that it may well be the case. I am in a position to observe wonderful acts of human kindness that isn’t required by some external law. People go far and above the minimum requirements of civil law in how they treat others. I’ve witnessed the outpouring of compassion in the moments of grief. I’ve seen selflessness in serving those in need. I’ve been touched by generosity that exceeds expectations. I am deeply aware of the good that comes from the hearts of many people.

The problem may not be that God has somehow not yet gotten around to placing the highest good within us. It may be that we fail to recognize the good that is within.

The poet Naomi Shihab Nye wrote:

"Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend."

She is onto something that is very real. I have seen it in my work with families who have experienced loss of a loved one to suicide. Their pain, so deep, so unanticipated, so raw can be troubling to face. More than once I have had to cry after leaving an initial meeting with such a family because the depth of their grief has such an impact on me. But later, sometimes after months and years have passed, after they have lived with their sorrow as a constant companion for a while, I have seen those same people become some of the greatest supporters of others. From somewhere deep within them comes an urge to help others and the help they offer is genuine and more meaningful than I can describe. It is as if their deep loss and sorrow has uncovered a compassion and love that is greater than they were aware existed. It is as if God’s love lies deep within them - written on their hearts.

I have come to believe that there are all kinds of things that prevent us from discovering the love that is deep within. We build shells of defensiveness. We light the fires of anger to mask the pain we feel. And, all too often, we run away from the intensity of grief and, instead of facing it head on, push it deep beneath the surface and cover it up with a veneer of normalcy.

Life, however, has a way of forcing us to deal the the cracks in the crust that covers up the reality that is within. There are times when sorrow and sadness simply cannot be avoided. That, too, I witness with regularity and frequency. I’ll think the topic of conversation is a recent loss and find myself listening to a mountain of pain from an older, previous loss. We will reach a point of trust in a conversation and it will feel as if a dam has broken and we are washed in the floods of mountains of grief pouring directly from the soul of a person who just a few moments earlier appeared to have everything under control.

We don’t like the feeling of losing control, but when we do, the doors open to discovery of something new - something that has been hidden.

What has been hidden for too many people is that their pain is connected with the pain of others. When we hold our pain inside and refuse to allow it to show, we can convince ourselves that our pain is unique and that we have somehow suffered more than others. We think our pain is more significant than the pain of others. But when we find expression for what lies within we discover that we are connected by our pain. Like the voices in a support group who have discovered how much they have in common, we can learn from experiencing our own pain and by listening to the pain of others.

Then, after we’ve felt the pain so deeply, we discover that even deeper lies love that does not die. Indeed the eternal lies within each of us.

Jeremiah got it right. And, at least from our point of view, he was not talking about some future promise that is yet to be fulfilled, but a present reality.

Love is already written on our hearts.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!