What is the significance of the texts of the Judeo-Christian religions to one who doesn’t consider them rules to be followed, or instructions for how to be good, or even the capital ‘W’ Words of God? What does ‘covenant’ mean in that situation? Does it even have meaning?
It may be that this Bible does not condemn people whose sexuality doesn’t conform to that same preference as the majority. If it did, would that matter? Not to me, because that isn’t what I’ve become convinced is the purpose of the Bible. It may seem odd to Bible-literal Christians that those who take a different view on the authority of scripture can think of it having any power at all, but it’s even powerful enough to affect a life when a person doesn’t believe every Bible story is a literal historical event. In that context, what does ‘Covenant’ mean?
Well, I don’t prefer the same music as the majority, though the Bible recommends certain instruments, and some even interpret Ephesians 5:19 to recommend (some say require) non-instrumental music.
Various rules (or dogma), doctrine, commands are held up by some believers as holy writ. They’re free to do so, and here’s the important thing: those who take a legalistic, literal view of scripture must be allowed room to see it as they do. A person can’t be made to change their perspective on how the entire universe is composed by argument. In fact, the evidence shows that argument only solidifies an opposing viewpoint where religious fundamentalism is concerned.
I once thought women couldn’t be ordained ministers, but then I married a woman who is possibly the best preacher I’ve ever heard. Yes, her words mean more to me because of the intimate relationship I enjoy with her. Even with my natural bias, I recognise her aptitude through those who don’t have such a close relationship, or any relationship at all with her, each of whom react as if quenched of a great thirst. Yes, women can and, if called must preach.
I once thought that any kind of sexuality other than heterosexuality was an aberration, an abomination to God. Then I was befriended by men and women whose same-sex relationships were loving, honest, and every bit as beautiful as my own marriage. Nothing aberrant, and certainly not abominable. Not only are such people not condemned, but openly blessed in life, marriage, and even in ordained ministry.
I could go on at further length about how my view of scripture has shifted, but thats not the point. I’m not writing to point out the error of those who take the literal view. I’m writing to show that scripture still has meaning, even if one doesn’t believe that these are the words of God transmitted by direct dictation to writers who somehow found God’s phone number. That it still has influence is a testament to its power and divine influence.
This is how covenant, a word with legal implications, can have meaning to those who don’t hold that the Bible is a legal book; that the biblical dogma is in no way the “Law of God.” Ancient cultures from which these words came were tribal. Life was harsh and the times were savage. They sealed agreements with marriages, livestock, and sometimes blood. Quid pro quo was just how their world worked. If one nation didn’t hold up their end of a bargain, there was nothing for it but brutal, bloody war. If just enough rain fell to provide a good harvest, if the beasts propagated and multiplied, people naturally assumed that the gods were pleased, and they continued in their contractual obligation to make burnt offerings. If the nation is conquered and its leaders are made captive, one assumes that God is angry. If your army decimates an entire race, you are justified because those people were evil and you, the true people, are expected to destroy them. This is not an indictment of any single early culture. In many early languages the word for one’s nation or tribe translates roughly to “The true people.” (http://www.native-languages.org/original.htm) This was the way of the ancient world, before the message of Love-your-neighbour-as-yourself managed to break through. What is remarkable is that, even in these early times, there are hints of the cosmic meaning of the word covenant; that even when broken, God still honours it.
Just a few centuries later things continued to progress. With the wisdom teachings of Hillel the Elder (100BC ~ 10AD) and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount (~30AD), a deeper meaning is revealed beyond a do-this-or-else understanding of the nature of the relationship humanity has with God. Love is the law. Love God, love people, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” This isn’t a one-verse doctrine; the over-arching story of God is a progression from human understanding of tit-for-tat, quid pro quo, to a godly love that extends beyond anything that can be broken like a childish earthly contract. It’s the divine understanding of God’s love — not just that God loves us, but that God is the embodiment of perfect love.
It’s almost trite… maybe it is trite: God is Love. Throughout scripture there are references to the covenants between God and humanity, between people and other people, husbands and wives and children. Love is the root of all relationships that truly affect a person’s life. What kind of covenant can one have with God? What agreement is there to be had with the very embodiment of Love? The only covenant a person can have with Love is to love. The only way to break a covenant of love is to withhold love, yet even then love sometimes breaks through.
That is the covenant God kept trying to get through to the writers of scripture. Many interpreted it in legal context, but in a lot of places the message made it through with blazing clarity. This is the only law, the only dogma, the only doctrine. Whatever name you use to call out to the Architect of life, if you are calling on the Author of Love, then you’ve found a covenant of ultimate freedom; what the whole idea of a covenant was meant to be from the beginning of time to the end to time-outside-of-time.