The Academic is Personal

One of my favorite passages of all came up in church this morning: Deuteronomy 30. It’s from Moses’ deathbed speech, meant to reassure the Israelites that they will still be able to have a relationship with God without his prophetic leadership, and to exhort them to follow the commandments that will keep them in this right relationship: “For this commandment which I am giving to you is not too difficult for you, and it is not too distant. It is not in the heavens, [for you] to say, ‘Who will go up for us to the heavens and take it for us, so that we may hear it and do it?’ And it is not beyond the sea, [for you] to say, ‘Who will cross for us to the other side of the sea and take it for us, so that we may hear it and do it?’ For the word is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it….

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.” Deuteronomy 30:11-14, 19.

I wrote a paper in grad school about these verses–more specifically, about the ways that Paul interprets them in Romans 10:5-10 as a way of exploring what “the righteousness from faith” means for the Christian community. And when I got home from church, on a whim, I pulled up the file on my computer and started reading through it. Reviewing long-ago papers is a salutary experience. I recommend it for anyone who needs a little dose of humility. There’s nothing like a long-ago typo to remind you of human frailty.

What strikes me most forcefully is how personal my argument is. Despite the academic subject, the occasionally convoluted phrasing (sorry, MRDA; not my best prose ever), and the carefully distanced scholastic voice, I can see in these words the topics that burned in me four years ago. Discomfort with the idea of a preacher mediating between the congregation and God? Check. Fascination with the role of language in my spiritual life? Check. Anxiety about never quite being able to believe hard enough? Check. Conviction that more careful exegesis is the answer to all of my problems? Check. In the end (and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised here), I managed to say a little bit about Paul and a whole lot about myself. There’s a lot more to say about this, but that’s what I have for now.

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