A Ten Commandments Problem

I'm not opposed to the ten commandments. They served a purpose in limiting violence in revenge. They provided a society in formation a basis for moving forward in a more healthy direction. While Jesus and other rabbis of his day found other commandments in the Torah that superseded what we call the ten commandments, these are still basic building blocks for a just society.

No, my problem is not with the ten commandments. They are a pretty decent list of commands we should embrace. The problem is when we make them out to be more than they are.

We want to believe that somehow the ten commandments are the fullness of God's will for the nation of Israel and by extension our own. We want to enshrine the ten commandments and turn them into monuments that somehow become a stand-in for God's presence in our public lives and in our system of government.

The Decalogue was never designed to become a monument or a symbol of a theocracy. There is a reason that Jesus summarized the greatest commandments by choosing the words of other Biblical passages. He went to Deuteronomy to elevate “You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your strength.” Then he went to Leviticus to quote, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These were for Jesus the focal points of God's commandments.

Erecting a monument to the Decalogue misses the point, especially when these are not commandments we follow. The commandments, after all, include prohibitions on covetousness, adultery, and bearing false witness. Many of the very same political figures who espouse the public erection of monuments to the decalogue are on record-breaking at least these three commandments and supporting others who likewise ignore them.

Following God's will perfectly is no simple task we can accomplish three times before breakfast. If we are going to be honest in both faith in Christ Jesus and in our politics, however, erecting a monument to the decalogue is much more like breaking the second of the ten commandments. That's the one about not having any graven image. When we substitute a monument for actually following God's will for our lives, we have become idolaters.

That is one of the very things the Decalogue condemns. We would be better off focusing our energy on what Jesus actually taught us. “Love your neighbor.” “As you have done unto the least of these, you have done unto me.”

©Copyright 2017, Christopher B. Harbin  http://www.sermonsearch.com/contributors/104427/ 


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