Why are the Ten Commandments important?
They signify living for a forgiving God
The Rev. Peter Luckey, senior pastor, Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt.:
The Ten Commandments are important because whether we challenge or ignore them, they are bedrock reality.
We don't choose the commandments; the commandments choose us.
For example, Chris Hedges, a New York Times reporter, tells the story of George Packard, now an Episcopal Bishop, who was a platoon leader in Vietnam. Packard is still haunted by the killing that he participated in during that war: "I violated the commandment, I killed other people, I took lives."
The weight of what he did grew harder to bear as he grew older, especially when he began to take part in a church program a decade ago to give food at night to the homeless in Manhattan. "It brought back memories of searching for bodies in the darkness."
The "ten words" are as much descriptive and prescriptive. They have been tested in the crucible of thousands of years of human experience. We break these "rules" at our own peril. ABC broadcaster Ted Koppel once said, "There is a reason they are not called the "ten suggestions."
These days, there are religious people who want to see the ancient words chiseled into the courthouse marble. These are the same people who cling to a punitive God (for others), who see a need for religion to be a beachhead against, in their view, an increasingly amoral and relativistic world.
People who find, in the Ten Commandments, a vengeful God, are misreading their Bibles. They fail to see how the editors of Exodus arranged the Exodus story and the Ten Commandments story with a particular theological point of view. To wit: The Exodus story, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of slavery" (Exodus 20:1-2) precedes the story of the Tablets from Mt. Sinai.
The sequence is critical: Before God asks something of us, we are reminded first of what God has done for us. Grace always precedes demand.
Following the commandments is less the requirements of a judging God and more our free response to live according to a forgiving God, knowing there is forgiveness even when we fail to fulfill the law.
Bishop Packard knows he will struggle his entire life under the weight of having violated the commandment "Thou shalt not kill."
"When in those last 30 seconds that I am fighting for breath, I will make a plea to God. I will say I did the best that I could in the oddities life gave me. I will ask to be forgiven."
In an ultimate sense, the "ten words" point us toward life.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Peter Luckey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
God's holiness revealed in commandments
The Rev. Bill Hurlbutt, senior pastor, Christ Community Church, 1100 Kasold Drive:
The Bible tells us that sin left mankind with a problem -- a void, as it were.
Scripture indicates there is an emptiness within mankind that can only be filled by God himself. If people would pause long enough from their busy lives and reflect upon this void, they would discover that sin has caused a separation from God, leaving them without eternal purpose or hope.
In an attempt to fill this chasm, people travel a multitude of paths, seeking the right one. Some pursue religious paths. Others pursue a life of piousness, a life full of good works. Still others seek to fill the void with social or financial status, while many seek to fill it with the pleasures of this life.
God had something to say on that subject. In Proverbs 14:12, the Bible tells us just because something seems right doesn't mean it is right. As a matter of fact, it can be a path toward destruction. Our sincerity in our beliefs does not determine our rightness or wrongness. We can be sincerely wrong. Sincerity doesn't relieve us from the consequences of our own misinformation.
The Ten Commandments, in the context of the whole Bible, make this truth very clear. God's law is certainly a guide for society, but the main purposes for which it was given were to reveal God's holiness, to show man's sinfulness and to lead man to a peace with God possible only through Jesus Christ.
The law proves man a failure at keeping it perfectly. This was its intent. Regardless of how "good" one is, it will never be good enough. Acknowledging this point is the first step in the right direction.
Send e-mail to the Rev. Bill Hurlbutt at email@example.com.