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"Make Us Like It"? Sounds Coercive. Then It Sounds—Essential

I love the "Traditional Collects" of the Book of Common Prayer as collected in the American edition my late father gave me years ago. Proper 25, however, offers a weird petition.

". . . and, that we may obtain that which thou dost promise, make us to love that which thou dost command."

It reminds me of Augustine's prayer a millennium before: "Give what Thou commandest, and command what Thou wilt" (Confessions XXIX.40). And it sounds—to my ears, at least—robotic: "We have to do it anyway, so please make us like it."

Psalm 19, however, says all this about the commands of God:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring for ever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.

God's law, God's rule, God's instruction, God's torah is good. His ways are the way of life. They are not arbitrary, but instead help us navigate the world as it is toward good objectives, outcomes, and destinations. They are the divine owner's manual—which we are free to disregard, alas, and then find out that the Designer knew what he was talking about when he recommended we do this and instructed us to do that.

Rather than trying to obey God for reasons having nothing to do with the intrinsic value of his commands—such as, say, fear of God's retribution or gratitude for God's kindness—which motivations, it is implied, will not suffice to sustain our desire to do all God wants us to do and thus obtain all God wants to give us, "the reward of the inheritance," the Prayer Book leads us to ask God to help us love his ways which are themselves good. Only such motivation—to fully agree with, even to love--what God commands will keep us going on the challenging path of obedience.

What God promises, furthermore, is eternal life with him in a world that will be going entirely according to . . . his commands. We could not enter that world to come—and, as C. S. Lewis pictures in The Great Divorce—we would not even want to dwell in such a place—unless we truly loved living by God's law, God's dharma, God's way.

We must be changed so that we enjoy obeying God. We must become (and once again our Lord shows us the Way) like Christ, whose very food—his sustenance and his pleasure—was "to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work" (John 4:34). Thus the Apostle Paul testifies, "In my innermost self I delight in God’s law" (Romans 7:22), even as Paul's old self fought against it, as our old selves do.

So may we be made by God increasingly to love his commands that move us down this path of life toward all that he promises. Even today, may you and I see how good it is, how right and how happy it is, to walk in God's ways.

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