“For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day God created man upon the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has God ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes… Know therefore that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Therefore you shall keep his statutes and his commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord your God gives you forever.” (Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40)
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the occasion of the celebration of the “central mystery of Christian faith and life”:
“It is the mystery of God in himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in ‘the hierarchy of the truths of faith.’ The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reveals himself to men and ‘reconciles and unites to himself those who turn away from sin.’”(Catechism of the Catholic Church, p 69-70)
Our passage today speaks of one of the very early episodes in God’s revelation of himself and of his nature. The entire book of Deuteronomy is presented as Moses’ last sermon to the Hebrew people before his death. In it he reminds Israel of all God has done and said in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt and in His faithfulness in bringing them to the very brink of the Promised Land. His charge to them is that they remain faithful throughout all generations to Him who has brought them so far. That is, they are to remain obedient to all God has shown them and to all He has told them to do.
From their experience, they have learned two profound truths about God. The first is that “the Lord Is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” They learned this as they watched the Lord invade Egypt and turn Egyptian “gods” upside down and inside out. They saw it further as they travelled from land to land and the Lord did the same wherever he went: “ by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” No one could compete against the Lord in heaven or on earth.
The second was that this power the Lord had used to deliver them was all “for their sake and their salvation” (a phrase we would not begin to know the fullness of until its final revelation in Christ). God did not need to free the Hebrew children, but he did free them, and by that they knew He cared.
It is on the basis of this that Moses exhorts the people to listen when God commands, for he is certain that whatever God commands is for their good. He is equally certain, however, that God, being God, will not put up with their disobedience:
“Therefore you shall keep His statutes and His commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which the Lord your God gives you forever.”
The idea is simple and rudimentary, an early stage in the gradual revelation of God that culminates in the coming of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. However it is not a revelation that has now been superseded, but one that has been deepened and confirmed. Through the ages, in all that God has said and done, it has become clearer, surer than ever, that He alone is God and that there is no other. And it has become clear that this God is always for us and that we can even name Him Love. Our theme song has become “God so loved ..that He gave.” And as a result, we should be even more certain that when he asks us anything, it is for our own good and wellbeing. All of sacred history confirms it, rising in a crescendo until its climax on the cross.
The only adequate response to God’s revelation of himself, both then and even more now, is faith, a faith which obeys. If that was what was expected of them then, how much more of us, who know Christ, now?
“By His revelation, the invisible God , from the fullness of his love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and to receive them into His own company. The adequate response to that invitation is faith. By faith man completely submits his intellect and his will to God. With his whole being man gives his assent to God the revealer. Sacred Scripture calls this human response to God, the author of revelation, ‘the obedience of faith.’ “ (CCC p.44)
Fred Durham is the President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.