God’s Law is Personal and Loving

In Monday’s first reading (Monday of the First Week of Lent) there is a recitation of the law that features the refrain “I am the Lord.” What does this expression mean and why is it appended to each command?

When we think of God’s law, there is a danger that we might think of it as we do of any secular law: as a sort of impersonal code written by nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them; we do not love, trust, or even know them. They are an abstraction we call “the government,” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t let you park here,” or “They’ll arrest you for that.”

If we have faith, God’s Law is personal, for it is given by someone we do love, trust, and know. Further, we believe that He loves us and wants what is best for us.

God’s law is not the equivalent of a no-parking sign put up by some nameless, faceless government agency. Rather, it is a personal exhortation, an instruction and command given by someone we know and who knows and loves us.

Consider this example: Suppose you pull in front of my church to park and you see a no-parking sign. Now suppose further that you decide to ignore it. You have broken a law—not a big one, but a law nonetheless. You’ve chosen to ignore a sign put there by “the government.” Now consider a slightly different scenario: You pull in front of my church to park and I, your beloved blogger and the pastor of the church you are attending, am standing out there by the curb and I say to you, “Please don’t park here.” This situation is different in that I, someone you know and love 🙂 , am personally requesting that you leave the space open for some reason unknown to you.

An old rabbinic saying makes this same point:

You want to know why so many of God’s laws end by saying “I am the Lord”? I will tell you! When God says, “I am the Lord,” he is saying, “Now look, I am the one who fished you out of the mud, so come over here and listen to me.”

When you experience the law in this personal way, you are far more likely to follow it, because someone you know and trust is asking and/or directing you. Now what if, despite this, you still choose to ignore the instruction not to park there. In this case, the law is personal, so your refusal to follow it becomes personal and is a far more serious situation.

Here are two (of many) examples of the “I am the Lord” phrase from Scripture:

You shall not defraud or rob your neighbor.
You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your day laborer.
You shall not curse the deaf,
or put a stumbling block in front of the blind,
but you shall fear your God.
I am the LORD.

You shall not act dishonestly in rendering judgment.
Show neither partiality to the weak nor deference to the mighty,
but judge your fellow men justly.
You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
I am the LORD
(Lev 19:11-14).

Note how each ends with, “I am the Lord.” On the one hand, it lends solemnity to the pronouncement, but on the other, God is saying, “Hey, this is God talking! It is I, your Father, who speak to you; I who created you, led you out of slavery, parted the Red Sea for you, dispatched your enemies, fed you in the desert, and gave you drink from the rock. It is I; I who love and care for you; I who have given you everything you have; I who want what is best for you; I who have earned your trust. It is I, your Father, speaking to you and giving you this command.”

God’s law is personal. Do we see and experience it this way? This will happen only if we come to know the Lord personally. Otherwise, the danger is that we see the Law of God as merely an impersonal code, an abstract set of rules to follow. They might as well have been issued by the deity, the godhead, or even just the religious leaders of the day.

A gift to pray for in terms of keeping God’s Law is a closer walk with the Lord and an experience of His love for us. Such an experience is a great help in loving the Law of the Lord, for when we love the Lord we love His Law, seeing it not as an imposition, but as a personal code of love meant to protect us. When we offend against it, either willfully or through weakness, we are able to repent with a more perfect contrition, for we understand that we have offended someone we love and who is deserving of all our love.

Abba – St. Paul indicates that one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is to be able to experience God as Abba. Abba is the Hebrew and Aramaic family word for father. It is translated by some as “Papa,” or “Dad,” but regardless of how it is translated, it indicates a deep love and tender affection. He is not merely “the Father” in some abstract or titular sense. He is someone I experience as my own dear Father, as someone who loves me. It is a personal, familial relationship that the Holy Spirit wants to grant us.

This personal relationship brings God’s law alive, makes it personal. And so God says, as He reminds of His Law, “I am the Lord. It is I speaking; I, the one who loves you.”

I might add that we also need to experience this with regard to the Church. Many see the Church in an impersonal way, as an institution. The real gift is to see the Church as Christ’s beloved bride and our Mother. In this sense, we love the Church and grow daily in affection for her, not seeing her “rules” as impersonal, but rather as the guidance and direction of a loving mother.

In this video, Fr. Francis Martin beautifully describes the gift of loving the Father with deep affection:

8 Replies to “God’s Law is Personal and Loving”

  1. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, which is love. In Him we see His love for His Father and God’s love for us who have sonship through Him, through which we say “our Father”. And Jesus shows us the way, has ‘given us a model to follow’ (Jn.13:15) to live the Law remembering the narrow path is the cross. Unfortunately those who see the Church as just an institution too often forget even the attitude of ‘unprofitable servant'(Lk.17:10) so some tend to see themselves as saviour, ‘supposing religion to be a means of gain’. Consider.
    May all things be restored in Christ according to the will of God, and please join me in praying for the Pope’s full recovery, and ‘blessed are you if you do this’.

  2. You write, “Monday’s first reading (Monday of the First Week of Lent) there is a recitation of the law that features the refrain “I am the Lord.” What does this expression mean and why is it appended to each command?
    When we think of God’s law, there is a danger that we might think of it as we do of any secular law: as a sort of impersonal code written by nameless legislators or bureaucrats.”
    Ironic- and would be humorous if not for the weight of the topic.

    With most Bibles today your quote of scripture is accurate. It’s also ironic because it leaves God unnamed. However, the oldest mss. show that the underlying Hebrew word is not the title Lord, but a personal name- rendered Yahweh in the New Jerusalem Bible and Jehovah in some others.
    So the Bible you used indeed leaves that God “some nameless, faceless government [official].” Why?
    Many of your illustrative comments are good ones, yet they negate your own point. Why?
    A translator in any literary field will tell you that “Lord” is a substitution, not a translation. Why?
    When we want to learn more about a person whom we have heard is worthy of love, trust and further knowledge, what do we first ask? Isn’t it ‘What is your name?’ Why not here?

    In the event, your church is moving with you. The imminent new version of the NJB will have Yahweh replaced with Lord throughout. Over 6,000 times.

    Will he be then ‘the God that dare not speak his name’?

    1. Lot of attitude here. Most of us know pretty well that when the English text says LORD (all caps) it is translating Yahweh. The LORD is not some nameless faceless official for most of us as you rashly assume. You come across here as a bit if a fussbudget and a bit superior. As for me, I guess I’ll just have to go one reading my tawdry little version.

      1. “Most of us know pretty well that when the English text says LORD (all caps) it is _translating_ Yahweh.”

        The Hebrew for Lord is Adonai; in either language a title and not a personal name. So the change is a substitution, not a translation. As I noted.

        You use fussbudget, attitude and superior to describe one insisting on correct handling of the Divine name. Do you apply the same words to the speaker at Exo 3:13-15? (NJB, which has the subhead “The divine name revealed”.)
        Quoting v. 15. God further said to Moses, ‘You are to tell the Israelites, “Yahweh, the God of your ancestors … has sent me to you.” This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come.’

        It’s stated more plainly at Isaiah 42:8. “I am Yahweh, that is my name!”

        1. LORD in all caps translates Yahweh. Adonai and Elohim are translated by other words, usually by “God” or the Lord.

  3. Perhaps modern English is comparable with koine Greek. Also culturally, if modernity, divided into subcultures each with their specialized vocabolary, is comparable with Hellenism and terrible polytheism/atheism. When the old testament was translated into Greek, in the first century before Christ, in Aegyptian Alexandria, the translators chose, Theos for Elohim, and Kyrios for IHWH. As regards the latter, it consists of only the letters that can be both consonants and wovels, I/J, H/E, and U/W, but we must assume that here, they are consonants. (Theologically, the Lord God is person as well as grace, in Christendom, three persons in one grace, and since liberty pertains to the person, and will pertains to the nature (the divine nature is grace), three liberties in one will.) Now, Elohim seems to be grammatical plural, but does not at all imply many gods, but probably that grace is infinite and almighty. In fact, nobody knows what the Hebrew word Elohim means, if it does not mean Theos. As regards, IHWH, it was probably pronounced almost as the Aegyptian moon god, or simply the Moon, YaaHu AuHu. Speculatively, perhaps Abraham realized that IHWH was not the Moon. So, speculatively, Elohim was Noah’s God, and IHWH was Abraham’s God. Or, Noah’s Lord, respectively, Abraham’s Lord. It is a mystery why human language needs several words, e.g. God, Lord, and Spirit (or Ghost), to speak about God. Perhaps one can say, that if the person subsists in itself (which the human person does not), then it is grace, and that if grace implies liberty, then it is person. As regards, Spirit (or Ghost), I do not know the similar Hebrew word, but it can, of course be found in the very beginning of Genesis. The Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts are all inspired. Grammatically, Hebrew is simpler than Latin, and the Hebrew text implies a lot of unwritten tradition, which the translators to Greek used. The best Latin text is the Stuttgartensia. This text never existed in any particular edition of the Vulgata, but was reconstructed from many.

  4. P.S. Nobody knows which language Noah spoke, but two of the oldest words in every language seem to be the roots, “ma” and “ba”, mother and father, in many languages. Historically, with Noah begins younger paleolithicum (c. 75000 b.c.e.), as a few Homo sapiens repopulated the surface of the Earth, replacing extinct races of elder paleolithicum. Neolithicum begun with the story of the tower of Babel, historically perhaps simultaneous with Jericho, and languages grew apart, as local vocabularies grew very complicated. Hebrew as distinct language perhaps begun with Abraham. The Hebrew alphabet is perhaps due to Moses. We do not know what language Jesus spoke. Most scholars claim that it was Aramaic, but it is possible that the holy family still spoke classical Hebrew. Some of the disciples and perhaps Jesus spoke whatever Greek they might have picked up.

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