Contracts, Covenants, and Self-Deification
The city of Minneapolis may eventually have to pay $31 million dollars to LSGI, a French firm that intended to build 200 stores under a dome at the south end of Nicollet Mall. The city backed out. The jury said it was a breach of contract, and the city must pay up. Why did this happen? Jim Klobuchar said it happened because of “the city’s casual idea about contracts.”
A contract is a form of a commercial covenant. This failure to take covenants more seriously may cost my family $510 ($85 x six citizens). That is not my concern here. It is only symbolic of a far deeper truth: the loss of covenant-faithfulness destroys life.
The catch is that it can feel good in the process. No one breaks a covenant (or contract) because it hurts to do so. Covenants are broken because it feels good to be free from the commitment. Covenant-breaking is a way of pain reduction. And in the process of reducing our emotional pain, we destroy life.
One might say that the whole Old Testament is written to persuade the world that the short term happiness of covenant-breaking leads to destruction and misery. The Lord God said,
If you…break my covenant…I will appoint over you sudden terror, consumption, and fever that…cause life to pine away. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it (Leviticus 26:15-16).
Can a man break the covenant and yet escape? ...Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: As I live, surely my oath which he despised, and my covenant which he broke, I will requite upon his head (Ezekiel 17:15, 19).
But in America a whole religion of “self-psychology” has risen up which makes covenant-faithfulness almost unintelligible. “The concept of God has evolved to the point where today man is God and if the sacred exists its center is in the self and the selves of others” (Paul Vitz). Which means that today covenant-commitment is primarily a commitment to “god”—namely, self. And the primary duty of this “covenant” is to feel personally happy and fulfilled, even if vows are forsaken, promises are not kept, and contracts are broken.
An avalanche of books and articles like Looking out for #1, Self Creation, Pulling Your Own Strings, and How to Be Your Own Best Friend, have spread the “root fallacy, [namely] the assumption that the human self can be wholly autonomous, solitary, contained, and ‘self-created’” (Daniel Yankelovitch).
The truth is that true selfhood emerges in covenant-faithfulness. By “true” I mean selfhood that finds favor with God and fulfillment in his presence. Psalm 15:1, 4 points the way: “O Lord, who shall dwell on your holy hill? …The one who swears to his own hurt and does not change.”
What does that mean? It means that the person who pleases God takes a vow or signs a contract or affirms a covenant, knowing that it may hurt to keep it, but does not change. It means that he will not use covenant-breaking as a means of pain-reduction. He will discover what it means to be truly human and truly fulfilled in God by accepting the hurt and the pain of covenant-faithfulness. Even if he loses all his money, or lives 50 years with a disheartening spouse, he will keep his promise and he will say, “I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy” (Psalm 43:4).
With you against the self-indulgent stream,
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org