For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing...And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. (Deut. 8:7)
Yes. That would just about sum it up. (Especially the bit about the bread.) France is undoubtedly a country rich in delicious and beautiful things. It seems as if every time we wander the windy streets (which you might have noticed by now is a frequent activity for us), we are carried away by various adventures. We run into rows of marchands passionately hawking their wares of wine, cheese, and fine sausages. Or a corner musician convinces a few dozen people to clap, sing along, and dance in the street. Wild and wonderous things are woven into the fabric of everyday life here, and I hope we don't ever take it for granted that we are living in such a serendipitous city.
Taking it for granted may seem far from our minds now, but this seems to be the primary danger inherent in entering a "good land":
Take care lest you forget the Lord your God ....when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them....all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God...Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth’ (Deut 8:13).
Ironically, the "good land" that we are living in has largely forgotten God. We read these words of Charles de Gaulle's at the feet of his statue on the Champs Elysees last week:
There is a pact,
twenty centuries old,
between the greatness
and the liberty
of the world.
Fine, admirable words -but strikingly godless. Perhaps the greatness of France and the liberty of the world are dependent upon one another in a philosophical sense. But, in this case, it is a sort of mutual admiration society that cuts God out of the picture. Now, regardless of what you might think about how faith in God ought to healthily play out in the political realm, you must admit that a person's worldview (including their conception of God) has an undeniable effect on their choices in life. And any time we humans get puffed up about our own efforts, we run the risk of forgetting the One to Whom we not only owe our liberties, but also our life and breath.
As a French pastor reminded us this morning, it is of great importance to thank God for His good gifts and what He has done for us. However, it must be balanced with praising Him for Who He Is as well. This keeps us from becoming too self-focused. It is a great relief to the human soul to thrust our eyes towards Someone other than ourselves, away from our own "greatness".
And yet He has a purpose in all [sweeping hand gesture] of this earthly greatness, doesn't He? In the midst of all of these baguettes, swirling street dancers, cobblestone pathways, marble steps, hidden frescoes, choral concerts, stammering students, swinging piano bars, accordian players, soups, salads, and humble corner cafes...
We shall remember the Lord our God (Deut. 8:17).