At the end of Leviticus, we read of God’s blessings and curses. On the surface, it appears that we are rewarded with material success if we live in God’s ways and we are punished with material deprivation and pain if we violate those ways. Given the apparent reality in our world that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people, what are we to make of these Biblical verses?
Let’s start with the traditional view that blessings, for example as taught in Proverbs, do come from living in, and being obedient to, God’s ways. Further, we have a sense that a community that truly lives on God’s path will be healthier, more peaceful, and more secure. Yet, Job teaches us not to be too cocky or confident that we fully understand God’s mysteries. Our experience of the horrors of, say, the Holocaust or, in our own lives, death and downturns that seem unrelated to living true or untrue to God’s ways, certainly makes us modest in all this.
Perhaps we come to a place where we understand that these blessings do not mean an easy life or one without pain or hurt or war or death. Nor does it mean necessarily, I think, a life of a high level of material abundance.
Is it possible that those who cleave to God and live with a heart and hand dedicated to pleasing God are blessed in very real and actually more important, deeper ways? These may include spiritual strength, spiritual abundance, peace, confidence, and a sense of being blessed with and grateful for whatever physical resources we have. In fact, isn’t it the contentment and gratitude that comes from Divine nearness, perhaps especially when we’re in pain or in trouble, that the text is really describing, though in words that were on the surface geared to success in agricultural terms?
Essentially, this path of living and being blessed is our roadmap whatever befalls us in life. Our faith has it that in holding to our duties to God we are blessed in certain ways that are very rich and sustaining, even in some ways that we don’t entirely understand, at least in this world.
As to the curses, perhaps we are on firmest ground when we recognize the simple truth that when we abandon God we are alone. If we put God out of our lives, we choose to face circumstances without Divine support. For people of faith, the rejection of God leaves us vulnerable to the exact sort of pain described, perhaps poetically, in these curses. We are as a driven leaf when we leave God – blown, without regard to destination.
God calls us. God seeks our nearness, and, in coming near, we are blessed with shalom. But we pay a price for leaving and and rejecting God. The text teaches this truth powerfully.