On January 24, 2021, in his Sunday homily, Francis, the Catholic chief, repeated the words of philosopher Sören Kierkegaard who said that “the Bible is God’s love letter addressed to us.” Wishing to emphasize the closeness of God’s Word, Francis had an underling to read the following:
It is a love letter, written to us by the One who knows us best. In reading it, we again hear his voice, see his face and receive his Spirit. That word brings us close to God. Let us not keep it at arm’s length, but carry it with us always … (Homily 2021)
In general, his point is more than appropriate: God speaks through the Scriptures to everyone and we must listen to them often.
The phrase about the Bible as a love letter is often repeated by some brothers in Christ. Some use it unaware of the phrase’s abuse, wanting only to emphasize the truth that the divine message conveys the Lord’s sacrificial love, John 3.16.
Others, however, want to say more than that. They try to diminish the importance of the demands of the gospel. They want to weaken the commandments in order to emphasize the promised blessings. Specifically, they want to take away from us the distinctive truths that separate us from religious divisions with their traditions, theologies and creeds, to bring us into communion with denominations. In our midst, the phrase “love letter” has become an argument against the truth that sets us free, John 8.31.
The Bible expresses the great love of God for humanity through which the eternal plan created the perfect conditions, “in the fullness of time” Galatians 4.4, for the sending of the Son and his sacrifice on the cross. “God is love,” declared the apostle John in his first letter, not once but twice, 1 John 4.8, 16. Love is his essence (as light is too, 1 John 1.5), which by necessity was expressed in a concrete way.
This concrete form is in every way interesting and engaging. Moreover, the form of divine love has become understandable, communicable and defined. This form is called “covenant”.
God has always worked and related to humans through a covenant, a formal structure through which responsibilities and advantages are defined for each side (Matheny 2020, 12). By formal, we mean that the covenant strictly complies with the terms, follows previously established norms and procedures and leaves no doubt. (Compare the similar definition of the online Portuguese Dictionary.)
The covenant expresses, on one hand, the comforting immutability of God: “The Preeminent One of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind” 1 Samuel 15.29. On the other hand, it serves as a means by which his grace is transmitted.
In Christ, the Lord established a new covenant, an inherent and essential part of the redemption achieved on the cross. Jesus made this clear in his words when he established the weekly supper: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” Luke 22.20. (Thus, only those who belong to the covenant, through obedience, have the right to eat and drink at the Lord’s table).
The new covenant has brought great benefits to humanity. Among them:
- Relationship with God through the internalization of his word, Hebrews 8.10.
- Full knowledge of God by all his people, Hebrews 8.11.
- Definitive forgiveness of sins, Hebrews 8.12.
(One form of this list is found online [Hoekstra s.d.]).
The old covenant of Moses could not offer these benefits to the people of Israel, so it was removed. Today people enter into Christ’s covenant through teaching and are not physically born into it, only to be taught later. Jesus declared that only those who are aware of the need for forgiveness and are willing to understand and welcome his Good News could be part of the covenant. Paul’s words to Christians in Ephesus apply equally to those who have not yet entered into Christ: “Therefore, do not be foolish, but seek to understand what the will of the Lord is” Ephesians 5.17. The Gospel is Good News, a message addressed to people who need to understand what God has done in Christ and apply to their souls, through faith and obedience, the good effects of his redemption.
Therefore, Philip’s question to the eunuch shows the great beginning point in the evangelistic process: “Do you understand what you are reading?” Acts 8.30. The covenant of Christ is summed up in being able to “understand with their heart and turn” Acts 28.27. Paul quoted Isaiah 52.15 in describing his work among the Gentiles to make the message heard and understood, Romans 15.21. This is what has to happen “in the entire world,” just as it happened among the Colossians: they “heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” Colossians 1.6. Seeing “the light of the glorious gospel of Christ” is described in terms of understanding the message, 2 Corinthians 4.4—in the case quoted by Paul, Satan worked to prevent understanding. The Gentiles are “darkened in their understanding” and therefore are “alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardness of their hearts” Ephesians 4.18. I conclude this important point with 1 John 5.20a: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us insight to know him who is true, and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ.” Again, understanding has knowledge as its goal and thus becomes necessary for the knowledge of salvation in Christ.
The covenant of Christ, then, is based on the understanding of the divine truths and no one can enter into the covenant without understanding (1) what God has done in Christ, (2) what we need to do to receive the new birth into God’s family, (3) what God continues to do today through his Spirit for us, and (4) what we need to do to faithfully serve him until the final day.
The terms of the covenant are clear, complete and comprehensive. The Bible is not difficult to understand in the essential things mentioned in the list above. God demands reading and attention, because anyone can understand it. Moreover, he demands the willingness and humility to accept all of God’s revelation about the fear and obedience we owe him. Some in their arrogance and desire to be accepted by denominations exchange its conditions and create “another gospel” Galatians 1.6-9.
There is no doubt that the Bible is the great expression of God’s love for human beings, but it is more than a love letter. The Bible, and specifically the New Testament, is also the offering of God’s covenant with all its conditions and benefits. The Lord forgives according to the plan of salvation revealed. His promise remains firm. He will fulfill everything in the way he explained. His love does not cancel the terms of the covenant, but only confirms them, for the commandments are also the expression of his love. What cancels his covenant are the traditions, creeds, doctrines and human theologies that modify the revealed truths.
It is up to us to accept it in its entirety, without adding, removing or modifying anything, confessing the wisdom and sovereignty of “him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” Ephesians 1.11.
HOEKSTRA, Bob (s.d.) “New covenant provided by the blood of Christ”. Série: Day by day by grace. nxnt.link/hoek. Accessed 2021-01-25.
“HOMILY”. (2021) “Homily of his holiness Pope Francis: Sunday, 24 January 2021.” Vatican.va. Accessed 2021-01-25. nxnt.link/francis.
MATHENY, Randal (2020) As alianças de Deus. São José dos Campos: Projeto Alcance.
The author has released his new book: O Soul! The Book of Exhortations.