“Look, today I am giving you the choice between a blessing and a curse! You will be blessed if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today. But you will be cursed if you reject the commands of the Lord your God and turn away from him …”
- Deuteronomy 11:26-28
Earlier this winter I decided to go out for a run along the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal trail near my house. I like to think I'm a tough all weather runner, so I was confident. I felt a breeze as the sun was setting and decided to start by going against the wind before turning around later. It wasn’t until I had descended to the path along the river that I realized how powerful the bitter wind was that blew in my face. It whipped across the water and took my breath away. I ran for miles with my head down and shoulder slightly turned to brace myself, as if I was preparing to tackle an invisible opponent. Body parts began losing feeling. With no human within miles, I remember my frustration reaching a breaking point as I screamed at the top of my lungs to no one about nothing in particular. I was cursing the wind! Ah, how horrible that wind was.
However, after I got the screaming out of my system and began thinking about it for a little, I realized that it was actually the wind that was cursing me. It was making my path much more difficult, making my progress hard, and filling me with frustration. I felt cursed. It was exhausting.
But then! Then, I finally turned around. Almost miraculously, there was a sense of stillness as I ran in the opposite direction. My body warmed up slowly, and my movements became less forced. The wind was still blowing, but this time I was moving with it in the right direction, and the experience was completely different. The running was bearable because the wind was no longer my adversary. In fact, it strengthened me. The wind was blessing me.
The Bible speaks frequently of blessings and curses. In the Old Testament, God’s people understood life through what we call the Deuteronomic Code (because it was rooted in the book of Deuteronomy). The code is quite simple:
Obedience to God = Blessing
Disobedience to God = Curse
These blessings and curses were often portrayed in very physical ways. If people were obedient, they usually ended up happy, healthy and wealthy. This worldview was no different from every other ancient worldview at the time. If you pleased God, God would reward you. If not, you would be cursed. When Jesus comes onto the scene, he shifts perspectives by declaring blessing without reservation to even the most broken and marginalized. Yet he still warns those who are full of greed, pride, violence and selfishness. He says that “great sorrow awaits them” (Lk 6:24-26), for those things are passing away.
The more I journey with Jesus, the more I am convinced that the blessing and curse reality still exists today, but it's less like God getting angry and taking it out on us, and more like the windstorm I was running against recently.
God has formed the world to flourish in a certain way. Jesus reveals it to us through his life and teachings. If we choose to posture ourselves against the way of life that Jesus reveals, then we will find ourselves working against the wind. Our progress will be pushed to a halt. When things like anger, violence, pride, greed and selfishness are the direction we move in, there will be negative repercussions in our spirit and lives. And we will feel cursed. The curse isn’t sickness or poverty. It will be a hollowness of life, a constant discontentment, and an emptiness that even health, power, and money can never fill. That's the reality of moving against God’s vision for the world. I’ve seen it happen over and over again (and plenty of times in my own life).
But when we turn toward the Jesus way, we encounter a different story. Jesus teaches us what it looks like to love God and love others. We move in the direction of grace, generosity, patience, forgiveness, self-control, kindness, compassion, and love, to name a few. When we join with Jesus to receive these things within ourselves and express them to others, we experience the “abundant life” that Jesus talks about.
It may look different from Deuteronomy. But today we still face the same choice between walking with or against the grain of God’s world. I know it’s hard, moment by moment. But together, let’s choose blessing.
Jesus, help me to turn in your direction today and experience the blessing of life with you.