But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34)
God promised that the day would come in which He would write His law upon our hearts. That internalizing of the Word has several possible meanings but one thing it seems to imply is that there will be no need of some kind of intermediary between God and people. We won’t need Scriptures, nor will we need teachers to interpret the Word for us. This isn’t even a matter of memorizing scripture verses, for even that falls far short of what God has in mind for us. God will place His Word directly on our hearts and we will know that Word from within ourselves. We won’t even have to call the Word to mind, for we will be one with the Word. We will no longer forget or be ignorant, for God’s Word will abide in us and we will always be aware of the Lord. Would that that day would come. For still today many know neither God’s Word nor God’s presence. And even many of us who believe the Word and know the Word, still at times forget it, or ignore it, or avoid it or deny it. And so we struggle while living in the world with temptation, sin, ignorance, confusion, doubt and all human foibles, failures and hubris.
St Gregory of Sinai (d. 1346AD) was particularly mindful of God’s promises and prophecies to be with His people. He especially found Isaiah‘s words, which the Apostle John quotes, to be significantly important to us.
It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. (John 6:45)
St Gregory says we have to move beyond the words printed in Scripture to understand what the Spirit is saying, and in so doing we come into union with God. In this way the Scriptures cease to be external to us for they unite us to God.
The physical eye perceives the outward or literal sense of things and from it derives sensory images. The intellect, once purified and reestablished in its pristine state, perceives God and from Him derives divine images. Instead of a book the intellect has the Spirit; instead of a pen, mind and tongue – ‘my tongue is a pen‘, says the Psalmist (cf. Ps. 45:1); and instead of ink, light. So plunging the mind into the light that it becomes light, the intellect, guided by the Spirit, inscribes the inner meaning of things in the pure hearts of those who listen. Then it grasps the significance of the statement that the faithful ‘shall be taught by God‘ (cf. Isa. 54:13; John 6:45), and that through the Spirit God ‘teaches man knowledge’ (Ps. 94:l0). (St Gregory of Sinai, THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 40928-40948)
In this process we move beyond simply reading the words of Scripture to having them transferred to our hearts, but they don’t remain as words still needing to be interpreted, for we grasp their meaning, and they grasp our hearts and minds, so that we live the Word, rather than merely reading it, memorizing it, or interpreting it. Now the Word abides in us and we know God rather than simply know about God. We experience God in our hearts as the Prophet Jeremiah promised.
St Gregory of Sinai goes on:
“As the great teacher St John Chrysostom states, we should be in a position to say that we need no help from the Scriptures, no assistance from other people, but are instructed by God; for ‘all will be taught by God‘ (Isa. 54:13; John 6:45), in such a way that we learn from Him and through Him what we ought to know. And this applies not only to those of us who are monks but to each and every one of the faithful: we are all of us called to carry the law of the Spirit written on the tablets of our hearts (cf. 2 Cor. 3:3), and to attain like the Cherubim the supreme privilege of conversing through pure prayer in the heart directly with Jesus.” (THE PHILOKALIA, Kindle 42158-42168)
St Gregory says this is what every Christian should experience. We cease looking for God “out there” somewhere in a distant heaven or at the end of time, for God enters our hearts here and now, and makes our heart heaven, makes us the temple of the Spirit, makes us realize that God is with us and within us. This in turn helps us get through each day in good cheer even with all the trials and tribulations that might assail us. Christianity is not a “die and go to heaven” religion for the Kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:21)