We're all familiar with the Ten Commandments. If we try to list them though, most
of us know the last half best: honour your parents; don't kill, steal, lie, commit
adultery, or strongly desire something belonging to someone else. They're pretty
straightforward after all. The first few, about having no other gods, making and/or
worshipping idols, and misusing God's name, somehow don't seem nearly as relevant
now as they were in Moses' time. Back then, people were very superstitious. They
had no idea of cause and effect or how things worked, so they spent their lives
trying to appease a whole variety of arbitrary deities in order to ensure success
in this life and well-being in the next. Now we're much more enlightened. So what
do the first few commandments have to say to us in the 21st century, if anything?
As a child, I had particular difficulties with the First Commandment: You
shall have no other gods before me. I loved God but, to be honest, I loved my
family more. I grew up in a very loving, supportive family and they were of primary
importance to me. If it came to a contest between my family and God, the family
would have won hands down! As a child, I was also naïve enough to believe
that all families were like mine. It wasn't until I was much older that I began
to recognize why my family was the way it was and that the majority of families
were not like mine. These twin realizations started to help me understand the
importance of the First Commandment.
God is the ideal Loving Parent.
Over and over, the Bible tells us how God loves His children. God wants only the
best for us. He gets frustrated and angry when we refuse to listen to His advice.
He disciplines us when necessary to try to head us in the right direction. He
loves us unconditionally and is willing to forgive us anything if only we will
come back to Him. He is just and completely faithful in His relationship with
us. In the person of His Son, He willingly sacrificed Himself for us. God also
demonstrates for us the supreme husband-wife relationship: committed, loving,
forgiving, cherishing, respecting, each interested in supporting the other and
working together. The New Testament frequently uses the analogy of the Church
as the Bride of Christ. To the extent humanly possible, my parents tried to live
up to this model and the result was a wonderfully secure, loving family environment.
Developing committed relationships and parenting children are not easy tasks.
Life keeps throwing challenges at us: wars, depressions, financial problems, health
problems, disagreements over virtually everything. However, these relationships
are the context within which we nurture each other, our families, and ourselves.
Even though we may not all be spouses or parents, we all have relationships. The
principles of developing and maintaining healthy, nurturing relationships are
the same, regardless of what the relationship is. That, to me, is why the First
Commandment is first, and why it is so important. It is in developing our relationship
with God and recognizing God's relationship with us that we learn to relate lovingly
to each other.
Gods and Idols
In Moses' day, "other gods" included a host of
pagan deities including Baal, Marduk and Molech - terrifying entities to whom
humans, including one's children, were regularly sacrificed. Idols ranged from
the famed golden calf to wood carvings. As God frequently pointed out through
the prophets, these creations of human hands and minds were not only powerless
to help, but also very destructive because they led people away from healthy behaviours
and relationships. Fortunately we have moved far away from things like human sacrifice
(unless you count what happens in war). In fact, the commandments about not worshipping
other gods or idols seem quite irrelevant today
but are they?
Do we still worship "other gods"? What about science and technology?
Wealth and power? Material security? Individual "freedom" (even when
it infringes on the rights of others)? Comfort and ease? Peer approval? Sex? The
new house or car? You can make your own list here. Not that these things are necessarily
all bad, but if they start to come first, ahead of our relationships with God
and others, they become negative. Like the other gods and idols of old, they fail
to satisfy the needs of our souls and they become physically, mentally and emotionally
The first few commandments are all about priorities. They
remain as essential to our health, well-being and relationships today as they
have always been.
Checking periodically to ensure that our lives actually
reflect our espoused values will help to keep us living life abundantly!