blogging the 10 commandments: # 1 and 2

montypythonGodI am going to blog about the 10 commandments. Wow, you must be running low on material, a friend said. Weeeeell no, I am interested in writing about them because I think how we see them reveals something about ourselves. They may trigger all sorts of reactions, as my friend conveniently demonstrated. There are those who view them with feelings of guilt or annoyance. Some view them with a smug satisfaction. Some see them as a big snooze-fest like my friend above. She also feels burdened and judged when she reads them.

I resonate with Scot McKnight when he says that the 10 commandments are relational in nature. The first four commandments are about loving God, the last 6 are about loving others. Jesus summed them all up for us in His expansive way: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as you love yourself. I have always wondered why people get so adamant about having the 10 commandments posted in their local government buildings instead of the two greatest commands. Is it because Jesus’ interpretation of them requires so much more of us?

The first two were originally seen by the Hebrews as one commandment. Maybe should be called the Nine Commandments, which would be a cool play of 3’s, being Trinitarian and all. But I digress. The first two commandments are:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
Exodus 20: 2-4

The first two commandments are contained in verses 3 and 4 but I included verse 2 because it reveals something about God’s heart for the people. When LORD is written in all caps, it is the word Yahweh (YHWH), which is God’s personal name and was considered so sacred by the Hebrews that they would not utter it. So here we have God expressing Him/Herself on a personal, relational level as the one brought them into freedom. That’s what love does. Even so, we often read the commandments as if God were saying from on high, “I do and do and do for you kids and what do I get? Straighten up and fly right! Here’s the rules, don’t blow it again.” Instead, I think God was saying something more like, “This is Who I am, and I know who you are. Here is the way that brings life, love and freedom. Walk in it.”

Why do I say that? I believe that these commandments are pure grace. You shall have no other gods before me. In the days of Moses there were plenty of other cultures with dozens of gods whom people had to please in order to ease their anxiety about surviving in a harsh world. It gave them some sense of control to think they had some affect on what could bring good weather for crops or to have plenty of sons so one’s tribe and influence would increase. The Hebrews were often lured into those beliefs. But these gods were capricious and unpredictable. And there were so many of them that required attention. People were enslaved to appeasing them, even sacrificing their own children when required.

Don’t be enslaved to anyone or anything, God said. Look at Me. I bring you freedom.

In addition, being a student of attachment theory which studies how people develop into healthy, loving human beings, I think God was saying something even more profound. In attachment theory we know that a child develops a sense of being and self from the loving gaze of another, primarily at first, her mother. Through sensitive connection, reflection and response, a child learns that she exists as a separate and special person, that she is worthy of love and can trust others to meet her needs. Eventually she is able to become one who is able connect emotionally and meet others’ needs as well. Without that strong protective beginning, people cannot attach in deep, healthy ways in later relationships. Love is thwarted. People struggle deeply because their true selves are tucked away and hidden, often even from themselves. They struggle to know how to get close to others and often feel unable to participate in some of the sweetest things in life because they don’t know or trust who they really are. So, what does this have to do with the commandments?

From the creation stories we know that we are the Imago Dei, the image of God. The crucial mother-child attachment is an icon of the crucial attachment we need in relationship with God. God’s gaze upon us affirms our truest selves and helps to peel away the “god complex” -the false selves that we often create to present to the world. We draw our truest identity from a face to face relationship with God. He tells us who we are, giving us the unconditional acceptance and love and delight that we need to flourish and be. He is the ultimate “Thou” to call forth our “I”, to paraphrase Martin Buber. From this orientation to God, we begin to understand who we are. Likewise, on a larger scale the living Church body draws her life and identity from God as well. To shift our gaze downward towards lesser things as we often do, substituting Christology for Christ for example, or beliefs that squeeze out those who do not fit a particular mold, means we lose ourselves. We lose our corporate identity.

It has been my belief that the church has lowered her gaze to many lesser things. Most are not necessarily bad things in and of themselves. They may include things like preaching, programs, church culture, moralism, rationalism and other “isms”, club mentality, being right (at least more right than that church down the street), being good, looking good, looking righteous, knowing how everyone else should look, finding ways to justify not being our brothers’ keeper, etc. Add your own. It is said that we will resemble that which we worship. If so, when others see us, what are we communicating about God?

It’s easy to see how these first two commandments are so connected. The second is: You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. When we take our gaze off of God as our Source of life, identity and being, whatever we gaze upon instead becomes an idol. An idol can be material or ideological. Anything, anything can become an idol. Idols are manageable. They give us a sense of certainty and tell us how to proceed. They make life seem logical and controllable. Idols freeze our certainties in time, eliminating the need for faith or hope, having created some sense of control over the past and future. Idols kill love and therefore, community.

The grace in these first two commandments is that in fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, we receive more of God for whom we were made to love and enjoy forever as the Westminster Confession says, and God heals us and gives us ourselves. And, just as important, He gives us each other! Miroslav Volf says that when we come to faith in Christ, we not only receive Christ but also all He brings with Him. Even in each of our own lives God is creating more than a single person; He is creating a community that resembles His own communal life in the Trinity. Though I do not believe, of course, that the ancient Hebrews were thinking about attachment theory when they studied the scriptures, they did understand the idea of Shalom, that celebrative experience of life that was peace-filled, inclusive, forgiving, abundant, joyful, and harmonious. God is re-creating people who will be able to participate fully in that. In fixing our gaze upon God, we re-orient ourselves to the only true means of experiencing the community of Shalom, and of birthing the Kingdom of Shalom on earth. I hope we can begin to see these commandments not as burdens or sources of self-righteous accomplishments but as a gift of life and love.

2 down, 8 to go.

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Showing 3 comments
  • Peter Carey+

    Excellent reflections, thanks for offering them. I happened across your blog in the CC network – nice work here, I plan to come back often.

    Peter Carey+

  • james

    do you know Kieslowski’s films for Polish televsion: The Dekalog (1989). Brilliant and evocative explorations of each theme from the context of the late 20th century. Certainly worth the time.

    James Lumsden

    • ellenharoutunian

      I have heard of them – they were shown in Denver a long while back but I have never seen them. Thanks for the suggestion!

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