The Bible often refers to the word “covenant” when it describes God’s relationship with the Chosen People (Jews), and because we too are called by God to be his chosen ones, the covenant relationship includes all of us who profess Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
Let’s start with Webster’s definition: “a formal and often solemn agreement and promise between two parties for the performance of some action by said parties.”
The marriage vows two people take would be an example of such a covenant. But there is a vast difference between human parties making a covenant and a covenant made between God Almighty us. It can only be said of God that God’s part of the covenant is never broken or forgotten. God alone always keeps his promises, not always in keeping with our timetable or our limited wisdom, but according to his providence. The Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 says it well:
“I trust in him so completely that I have no doubt that he will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul. Whatever trouble he permits to come my way he will turn to my good, for he is able to do it, being almighty God, and is determined to do it, being a faithful Father.”
An Old Testament example would be the birth of Isaac to elderly Abraham and Sarah and the saving of the Jews from Pharaoh by Moses. Therefore, the burden of the covenant between God and us chosen ones lies squarely on our shoulders. What needs to happen when we fail to keep the promises we made as a part of the covenant?
One of the best examples to follow (with some imagination) is the one I used to counsel couples when one marriage partner breaks the marriage covenant by having an affair with another person. The guilty partner first needs to confess and be sincerely and profoundly sorry for breaking the covenant. In response to the confession, the innocent party is to forgive the guilty one. Even as the guilty party needs to say “I am sorry” many times, so the other party needs to say and really mean “I forgive you.” The guilty party is to sever the relationship with the non-spousal party at once. No gradual weaning off. Go “cold turkey” in ending the affair, and avoiding this other person. Finally, the guilty person needs to undergo professional counseling by a highly trained and experienced marriage and family therapist. Otherwise, the sin will happen again. The guilty party needs to seek and feel God’s forgiveness and thus be able to forgive her/himself.
Fortunately, the Bible tells us far more about his people’s failings and rebellions against God and his chosen leaders than it does about their obeying God’s laws. God’s unconditional love includes forgiving the unfaithful, removing their sins as far as the east is from the west, wiping the slate clean so they can begin again as new people living under God’s laws and way of life. Make no mistake: the people had to endure God’s judgment and justice.
The covenant God made with Israel is a part of our history today. But like the old hymn says,
“Let thy grace, Lord, like a fetter bind my heart to thee,
Prone to wonder, Lord I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.”
No one is immune from the drive and forces of the evil one, which can lead to temporarily forgetting our part of the covenantal agreement with God. Thank goodness God loves us too much to allow us to succumb to evil’s road to rack and ruin, enabling us to repent and return to our right relationship with him. As an act of unconditional love, God’s judgment comes not to destroy (although it may feel like it,) but to restore, resulting in a new life with hope for a better day. Thanks be to God!
The Rev. Gene Norris is a retired Presbyterian pastor, therapist and hospital/military chaplain.