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“Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments” (Deuteronomy 5:29).

GOD’S STATEMENT IN THIS VERSE CAME AFTER ISRAEL HAD SAID THEY WOULD OBEY THE LAW THAT GOD WOULD GIVE TO MOSES ON MOUNT SINAI. “Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say,” they had said, “and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it” (v.27). That was a fine statement, which God acknowledged (v.28), but God knew that Israel would end up not keeping the Law, so He said, “Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments” (v.29). Although some of the people may have been sincere in what they said at Sinai, the fact is, it was easier to say those nice-sounding words with their lips than it was to keep them.

This is not an argument against saying the words that express our highest ideals and best intentions. There is value in verbalizing these things, even when we know our performance is going to be imperfect. Often our words serve the purpose of saying what we want to be true. Yet we still need to be careful. Surrounded by other religious people, it’s easy to say nice things. But talk is cheap, as the saying goes. We need to mean every promise we make to God.

Finally, I wish to suggest another aspect of this topic. All of us have had the experience of saying things nonchalantly that turned out to be far more “real” than we imagined at the time. A similar thing happens sometimes when we speak of God. For example, we might casually and superficially talk about God being “a consuming fire.” Those are true words, as we find in Hebrews 12:29, but if the time ever comes when we actually experience the wrath of God that we spoke about so glibly, we will tremble to realize that, whether we really meant it or not, we spoke far more truth than we knew. All of which is to say: words are powerful things. And if the words we speak are about God and they happen to be true, their truth may come crashing down on us eventually — even if we didn’t really mean them when we said them.

“There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“man’s search for God”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to that! Worse still, supposing He had found us?” (C. S. Lewis).

Gary Henry — +

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