Q&R: Blessings or Curses? Deuteronomy 11:26-28

Question

I’d like to know if there is somewhere you have addressed Deut. 11:26-28? I’ve heard you say that God let His people tell the story. But what about God promising blessing or judgment on the land, based on their obedience to Him?

Response

I have not written on this text before. Let’s look at it together;
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse—the blessing if you obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the Lord your God and turn from the way that I command you today by following other gods, which you have not known.
I think if we read these words very carefully, they are not at odds with the revelation of Jesus Christ.
First, let’s recognize what the passage does not say but what is so often wrongly inferred. It does not say, “If you obey, I will bless you. If you disobey, I will curse you.” In these verses, the blessings or curses are not endowed or imposed by God, but rather, they describe our experience of turning toward or away from the LORD your God, who had already revealed himself as the infinite Wellspring of all blessing for all people. Note how the active ingredient in that experience is our turning. To turn toward the sunshine of Love, Light, and Love is to open ourselves to experience God’s blessings. To turn away from the sunshine of Love, Light, and Love is to create a shadow and all that happens within that shadow–what Deuteronomy calls ‘curses.’ God does not curse us. Turning away is a curse to ourselves.
This is similar to Paul’s statement that “the wages of sin is death, and the free gift of God is eternal life.” Paul doesn’t say “the wages of sin is that God will curse you” but that the sin itself bears its own awful consequences. I discover that through self-will and by turning from love toward idols (especially the idol of egoism), our lives become unmanageable–a curse. Practically speaking, this looks like turning from communion to alienation or as Jesus describes it in John 3, from “life” to “perishing” (in the here and now). Again, Jesus does not say that if we turn from God, he will cause us to perish. Rather, in our turning away, we create the condition of alienation or perishing from which God sends the Son to rescue us.
Thus, when I read this text from Deuteronomy through the narrative of the gospel, what God is “setting before you” is the Cross of Christ, where the two thieves represent two orientations toward one and the same Love (Jesus) and their responses determine whether they experience the Cross as lovely or hateful, as blessing or curse, as heavenly or hellish. Paul even calls the good news of Jesus Christ either the aroma of life or the stench of death, depending on the direction of our hearts.
The good news is that when we turn from God, God does not turn from us. God no more turns from us when we turn away than the sun ceases to shine when we blindfold our eyes. Even those who create shadows can only have those shadows because the Light continues to shine from behind their turned backs. And even what happens in those shadows–the curses we create for ourselves–can motivate our turn home, as when the prodigal son is reminded of the blessed tastes and smells back home by the cursed stench of the pigpen! That is, when we bottom out on our own alienating ways, the consequences themselves may motivate our return to blessing.
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Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More