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Rules – they are supposed to serve a purpose. But do they? Maybe they’re made to be broken? We live in a culture in which we don’t want to have boundaries or rules. We want freedom – any constraint on that seems like a raw deal, and a dishonest truth. Yet can you have freedom without some sort of parameter to define what is freedom?
Much of our western culture has been a rejection of religion – at least since the Enlightenment. In reaction to what we might call the extremism of the Medieval Age, the burgeoning scientists, writers and philosophers – the “humanists” reacted against what they had experienced as religion. The Reformers – Martin Luther and Jean Calvin– did as well. But they took different paths. The humanists ended up with the perception that religion is merely a set of rules superimposed on others to control and limit them. Martin Luther and Calvin thought differently: they saw the 10 commandments as a reminder of who we are as human beings, which leads to our need of God. Luther thought that the 10 Commandments show us how to live, empowering us to live for God and for and with one another. It’s quite a difference. One view says it limits us and our human potential. Hence the anarchist refrain “Ni Dieu, ni maître” [neither God nor master]. The reformist view invokes the commandments as our way towards freedom and grace. So what do we do with the 10 commandments? Are we still under them?
COVENANT COMMNITY: It’s easier for us to forget why and how God gave the commandments to the Israelites. They’re in the desert. Wandering. Complaining. Moving towards chaos and eventual community destruction. They fret over the quail and manna. They fight over if God will provide or if they should return to slavery. Obviously they’re afraid of not having enough – buying into the demonic and divisive lie of the myth of scarcity – that there isn’t enough to go around, so you better get yours by gettin’ someone else. God responds to this chaos-creating fear with the 10 commandments. Why? How do they contribute to this emerging community of the freed Israelites? How does it shape them? How does it define them? And by extension – how do they shape and define us?
LAW AND GRACE: do we still have to follow the 10 commandments when we’re saved by grace? As I wrote earlier Calvin and Luther saw the commandments differently. Calvin saw them as a reminder of our sinfulness. Luther saw them as a guide to the way in which we are sanctified and can live together as God wants us to.
What strikes you in the Commandments? Actually a more accurate translation of the Hebrew would be “the 10 words” instead of the “10 commandments.” How does that change your impression of them? of God?
“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.
The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition, which needs illusions.” – Karl Marx. On Religion. [wiki page]
Marx says that religion is a lie, meant to indoctrinate and imprison us. (It’s like the “Ni Dieu, ni maître” quote of the anarchists). How do you experience faith differently than Marx.
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in this text? Why?
2. How does the 10 commandments impact you and your daily life?
3. Paul says in Romans that we “no longer live under the law”? How does that relate to the 10 commandments. Does that mean we have no limits, rules? Does anything go? Or are we still required to obey them?