Magazine article The Christian Century

Branded by God

Magazine article The Christian Century

Branded by God

Article excerpt

Exposing our hearts to God, we are branded by the word that makes us a community.

Sunday, October 29 Jeremiah 31:31-34

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." And so God declares he is writing himself into us, according to Jeremiah. In the evangelical tradition in which I grew up, we spoke of "letting Jesus into our hearts." He stood there patiently and knocked, waiting as long as it took, and when we were ready, we swung the door open and invited him in.

The God of Jeremiah will have none of that. This God has grown weary of people's inability to keep his law. No more will the covenant be written in stone, a covenant which was external and could be broken. Instead, God will write the covenant on his people's heart. In the Hebrew God does not refer to "hearts" but says "I will write it on their heart." The heart of the entire people will bear the covenant. This will be no privatized reformation of individual lives.

Not that people were asking for this new covenant. No one in Jeremiah's day was speaking sweetly of "letting God into" his heart. There is no hint of an invitation on the part of the people. As Walter Brueggemann points out, this covenant is given by God without reason or explanation. God wants the relationship with the people and resolves to have it. So God declares that he will write himself into the people.

Notice that although many of the surrounding passages are written as poetry, this text is written as plain prose. It is expressed not in high-flown language but as a down-to-earth matter-of-fact promise. It is going to happen--"The days are surely coming, says the Lord"--whether the people invite it or not. And though the image of God writing "my people" on the heart of the people is a compelling one, it also has a frightening aspect to it.

Think of a tattoo. Better yet, think of getting branded. Now that tattoos have gone mainstream, those who stay ahead of trends are getting branded. I met a guy who did this. He said it "hurt like hell" for a very long time. Now it's a scar and he is "branded for life."

Tattoos and brands are more or less permanent. To get rid of a tattoo involves painful surgery that leaves a scar. A brand is itself a scar and can only be removed through costly laser surgery. Literature on tattoos and brands warns potential customers to be sure that they want the mark they are getting and to consider it permanent.

Whatever symbol a person chooses says something about him or her. That's why tattoos and brands are chosen in the first place--as a mark of identity. …

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