Carved in Stone

Tintoretto -- Moses Receiving the Tables of the Law  

Tintoretto -- Moses Receiving the Tables of the Law

 

Here we are – 21st century America – and our largest city is contemplating electing as mayor, a man, appallingly named Anthony Weiner, who has been committing electronic adultery in electronic public, for years. One of our most admired athletes has been indicted for murder. Our college professors are spitting in God’s face, our economists are touting unworkable financial policies, our children are defiantly engaging in every self-destructive behavior available, and we have provided many such opportunities. As much as I’ve lamented Barack Obama’s presidency, I’ll have to admit that the pain is cultural, not political.

We have become a nation of people trying to avoid facing the results of our decisions. We’ve somehow come to think that freedom means not having to do so. Yet, if we do not – if we continue, on an individual basis, to erase e-mails, erase marriages, erase babies just to duck out of the natural results of our individual choices, what will happen?

We recognize scientific laws – gravity, thermodynamics, general relativity. Well, social laws exist as well. Neither group are really laws, as in legislation or decrees, but clear statements of what actually is. The social law I’m referring to goes like this: for every action there is a commensurate result. Always. If a woman betrays a friend by lying about her, she will lose that friendship. If a man sleeps with another woman, he will lose his wife. If a young woman sleeps around she is likely to develop a sexually transmitted disease, or to become pregnant. Commensurate results.

But what happens when a society contrives to remove those results? What happens when the deeds of the thief go unpunished, the words of the liar are accepted as valid, and the babies of the promiscuous are flushed away? What happens when all those moral laws are ignored? Do the consequences just go away? Historically and currently that doesn’t appear to be the case.

But can’t a community just choose what moral laws it wants to obey? If we want to OK promiscuous sex, why can’t we do so if we can rid ourselves of the nasty ramifications?

Let me answer that with another question – what if those moral rules, those ancient carved-in-stone thou-shalt-nots were not restrictions to be tampered with, but instructions to be followed? What if those were merely a written version of what we all know deep in our hearts – that some behaviors and attitudes are counter-productive? What if those ten rules were really warnings like those in a user’s manual – thou shalt not use this hair dryer while standing in water?

Let’s look first at the historical background. The Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had just escaped from slavery in Egypt. They were on their way to the Promised Land. They knew from tradition how to be Jewish, but they had no idea how to be their own nation. For four hundred years they had followed Egyptian law, now they needed their own. God had to teach them how to hold onto the freedom He was giving them. They needed guidelines so strong, so emphatic that they had to be carved into a piece of the mountain and ensconced in the Ark of the Covenant.

Even though the Ten Commandments are part of what is called “The Mosaic Law,” they aren’t laws – each one has no listed punishment if broken. One actually has a positive outcome – “honor your father and your mother that your days may be long upon the earth.” These are instructions, guidelines for each individual citizen. They are not spiritual laws; they are not legal laws. The only spiritual law (with stated dire consequences) is that we are to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ or we perish, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life, “ (John 3:16).

Today we have it all screwed up. We have confused guidelines with law. No one wants to make it a law that you love God, but first and foremost, if you do, life will be better. Period. Yet a large percentage of Americans worship other gods – some fanciful, some human, some mineral, and some vegetable, pushing The God out of the picture, not satisfied with denying Him themselves, but determined to erase Him from our culture entirely.

We are ambivalent about the Sabbath rest – yes we want that time off, but not to honor the creation work of God; 21st century Americans no longer even recognize that work, let alone honor it. (note: Sunday worship for Christians is not connected to Sabbath worship for Israel – but that’s another issue. My point here is the showing of respect for creation.)

We are to honor our mothers and our fathers – implying not only obedience on the part of the children but honorable behavior on the part of the parents. Functional families are producing, foundational units of society. If the bricks are falling apart, how will the building stand?

We are not to take the name of God in vain. This is not a linguistic restriction; it does not mean we shouldn’t make sexual or scatological remarks. That’s just a matter of politeness and decency. It means that we are not to swear by God’s name -- “By God, I swear I’ll finish this job.” Why shouldn’t I say that? – because I probably won’t. God will not be taken lightly; He will not be connected to any kind of falsification – even when we are just lying to ourselves.

We are also not to lie to each other – especially about other people. The sustainability of any society depends on trust; no amount of regulation and law can substitute for that. Trust is based on truth and post-modernist society believes strongly in only one idea, “There is no such thing as absolute truth,” – a self-refuting, ridiculous statement, but one that is at the heart of our current relativist philosophy. Our president obviously thinks that way, saying in public whatever he feels he needs to say, regardless of what he said the day before, regardless of the truth.

People should not steal from each other. Duh. Each individual evidently has a right to own personal property, to keep that which he has earned or inherited. But what if I want to take what is yours to give to someone else? Sorry, there’s no wiggle-room here. “Thou shalt not steal” does not include any provisos about what the thief does with the loot – he just isn’t supposed to steal. Not even if he is the government.

This guideline is closely connected to the non-coveting guideline. To covet is to envy – to wish that you, instead of your neighbor, had the big house with the three garages. Now days, enough of us covet what the rich have so strongly that we have set up systems to relieve them of their wealth under the mistaken idea that if they don’t have it, we will, but it never works that way – those systems always produce poverty for everyone but the people enforcing the system.

And when this coveting of someone else’s wife gets too far out of hand, we end up with the temptation of helping ourselves to said wife (or husband) hence the guideline “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” What adultery does to a society is obvious. Fifty percent of our marriages fail and usually, sexual dalliance is at fault. This is a most individual choice, (I’m sure Anthony Weiner didn’t call a committee meeting to determine whether or not he should.. never mind.). But it is one with dire community repercussions. People can fool themselves into thinking that they’re being discreet, no one will know, no one will get hurt. I have a two-word reply to that: Monica Lewinsky.

Of course the warning about committing pre-meditated murder hardly needs discussing. Disrespect, coveting, stealing, lying, and adultery all lead to murder and where you have murder running rampant you have no society. Want to move to Detroit?

If we don’t take individual responsibility (and those aren’t just words a la Bill Clinton) then we will collectively suffer the consequences. People prosper when their society prospers, and the society prospers when most of its people follow God’s guidelines. God isn’t trying to hem us in or limit our chances for happiness; He’s showing us the way to that happiness.

If we are right with God, right with our parents, right with our spouses, our neighbors, employees -- then our families, our communities, our nation will prosper; when the society prospers, so do we individually. We enjoy life more. It’s an interesting cycle that starts with the individual’s free will, branches out into the community, and then reverberates back to the individual and his volition. Voluntarily following the rules begets more liberty; the more of us that adhere to the instructions, the less need we have for government in our lives.

Will 21st century America continue to be America? If we don’t get our individual choices – right down to what movies we see, what songs we listen to, what dreams we entertain – our cultural, and therefore, our political future is grim. We can start by paying attention to the best guidelines ever written. There is no freedom without them.