It feels to me sometimes like we live in a world of “the deal.” So much of what we do and how we live seems to rely on what kind of a deal we can get. Or make. I give x, I get y in return. I invest (money, time, resources), I expect a return on my investment. And “a great deal” is one in which I get more in return than the value of what I put in. Or at least the illusion that I got more. We’re not always sure - or we don’t care to find out - what the true cost of something is.
Sure, there’s such a thing as a deal where it seems like it’s good for all parties: the value of the product and what’s offered is equitable or there’s a good return on an investment that’s equitably shared. That system of exchange is how we operate. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s fair trade.
But, more and more often, getting the best deal seems to involve being able to gain an advantage or even over take the other party in a way that brings reward to one and less, nothing, or next to nothing, to the other. There needs to be a winner and a loser and we start to idolize the winners. And when winning becomes that important, all sorts of tactics we might otherwise think are unfair and wrong become reasonable, even desirable. Egos become bigger, personalities more aggressive and exercising power over others, even bullying them, becomes okay. We must get what we want. It’s just good business.
But good for whom? Like I said, I’m not arguing against our way of trading and exchanging for goods and services, it’s a pretty fundamental piece of how we are. But. Some things are bigger than just you and me and that’s when we need more than an agreement or contract. I think we need a covenant.
Here’s how I see the difference. In a contract, we put in something, we get something back. It’s an agreement designed to benefit the parties involved in the exchange. Something as simple as buying a chocolate bar, for example. You give the seller a dollar they give you a chocolate bar. They get money, you get the chocolate bar. There’s the manufacturer, of course, the shipper, and the people who provided the raw ingredients, perhaps even more, but they, too, have been compensated. That’s a little simplistic, perhaps, but I think it’s essentially the intent. It’s a deal.
In a covenant, I think there’s more. I should be more specific, here, and say that I’m referring to a practical aspect of how I understand biblical covenant. I don’t mean to minimize the historical and theological issues and interpretations, but here’s the thing: in a covenant, what the parties contribute creates a new thing which is not only mutually beneficial, but has a much bigger influence and impact.
There are a number of covenants in the Bible, from Noah, Abraham and Moses to the New Covenant in Jesus, but I think they all have this in common: God offers love and life, we offer faith and we create this new thing, a community of grace, care and compassion to which all the children of God belong.
Or, at least, we could. We have a long history of not always living up to our part of the covenant. Which is why it’s also so important to remember that neither God or Jesus ever asked for perfection in this life.
But just think about how different things can be in the context of a covenant. Covenant values the individual, but builds community. Covenant shares equitably and creates opportunity. Covenant inspires and lifts up. Covenant empowers and encourages teamwork.
That’s not to say that there’s no cost to covenant. We’re human beings. There are a multitude of challenges and struggles. The story of Jesus reminds us that there can also be sacrifice. But covenant reminds me, most importantly, that there is something bigger than me. It’s something that I’m a part of because of what I bring to it and what I gain from it, but it also means that I’m part of the fabric of what has been, what we’re creating and what will be. I can’t be that alone. I can’t do that competitively and I can’t get that from the best deal for me. I think I want a covenant.