The Problem With Commandments

I’m reading a book about the 10 commandments.  The book is old by many people’s standards, published in way back in 1999, by Hauerwas & Willimon.

I think I’m starting a journey to reading everything Hauerwas has written.  I started with his memoir last year at David Swanson’s suggestion.  Hauerwas makes Christianity seem both accessible and incredible for it’s simplicity.  He and Will Willimon often get together, join literary powers, and paint this faith beautifully.Station of the Cross

This slim volume on the commands is just as intriguing.  Their premise, or one of them, is that the commandments only make sense if we have as a background the vocation of worshipping God.  God is not to be helpful or responsive to us but worshipped.  God is, and creation worships.  In their own words:

The commandments are not guidelines for humanity in general.  They are a countercultural way of life for those who know who they are and whose they are.  Their function is not to keep American culture running smoothly, but rather to produce a people who are, in our daily lives, a sign, a signal, a witness that God has not left the world to its own devices.

You may disagree, but those sentences clarify the ten words (another way of talking about the commands is by using the earlier phrase “ten words”), but they also make them that much more dubious in that clarity.  They are both sensible and nonsensical, which is how they come to the language of these acts being countercultural.

This quote below is actually about an early theologian, Thomas Aquinas, and their summary of something Aquinas said.  But the quote is searching me right up through here.  It is in the chapter on the fifth commandment not to murder.  By this point in the chapter, they’ve hinted at how murder is a term that captures all kinds of killing and that they scripture’s intent is both external and internal.  So think about behaviors and thoughts:

Aquinas does not mean that we are not to feel righteous indignation against injustice, but rather that we are to develop among ourselves those virtues that free us from temptation to envy and self-importance, which so often lead to presumptions that we have been grievously wronged.

I’m thinking about this in relation to being a father, thinking about this as a leader, as a husband, as an opinionated person.  And the less the commandments are about the external only (i.e., murdering a person), the more challenging they become.  I’m pretty sure I’ll see coming the whole me-murdering-somebody-thing.  It’s external.  But the internal killing is taken up into this commandment, too, and when I believe that, when I believe that God who is concerned for thoughts from afar or “lust” as Jesus has so said, I have an existing problem with the commandments.  I feel both inspired to live into this vocation as a person before God and knocked to my knees.  At some point, I get really thankful that grace is both fulfilling and inspiring.  At some point.  For now, I taste that problem on my tongue.

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