I am not sure about how you react to things, but whenever somebody tells me, “Not to do something,” I only want to do it more. Call it temptation, call it human nature, or call it sin – whatever it is – that defiance seems to drive much of our lives.
Take the Ten Commandments, for example.
In hearing, “Don’t do this,” I imagine us having this conversation with God…
God: “Don’t have any other Gods than me.”
Us: “Oh, yeah God, I control my own destiny and there is nothing you can do about it!”
God: “Don’t use my name in vain.”
Us: “OMG, really???!!! D*&#$@^.”
God: “Don’t forget about a day off each week. It’s a day I set aside for you for worship and family and catching your collective breath.”
Us: “Sorry, God. Gotta go.”
God: “Don’t disrespect your parents.”
Us: “But God…dude, they are in my way, telling me ‘no’ all the time, giving me even more rules than you do!”
God: “That’s right! They love you and want to protect you. Respect them for that.”
God: “Don’t Kill.”
Us: “Yeah, but have you seen what this guy did to me? I could just…”
God: “Don’t take other people’s stuff.”
Us: “But she wouldn’t really miss it, would she?”
God: “Don’t mess around with people’s families, and don’t mess up your own.”
Us: “Sure, God, that makes sense, but hold on just a second…” (Our eyes start to wander.)
Us: “How YOU doin’?”
God: “Don’t lie.”
Us: “But did you hear what they said about me, those cowards. Those means spirited, awful, disgraceful, scum-sucking bottom feeders. Did you hear what they said about ME??!!??”
God: “Don’t want what others have – either their things or their relationships.”
Us: “Umm, yeah God, that’s why I work hard, study hard, and play hard: To be like my heroes. To have what they have. To win over their crowd and influence people like they do.”
God: “These rules are not for climbing.”
We start thinking to ourselves…
Us: “Obviously God doesn’t want me to think for myself, express myself fully, live in the world, want me to be an individual, watch or read the news, like movies or video games, see how attractive some people are, understand economic theory, have enemies, or have goals and want to succeed.”
But God understands us all too well. Why on earth would God tell us not to do something if it wasn’t for our own good? The carabiner says, “Not for climbing.”
Why have only one God? The God of the universe created you and loves you. All the other things you chase will only leave you empty.
Why use God’s name the right way? God’s name is holy, and words matter. Choose yours carefully, wisely, and clearly. Have you heard what you sound like sometimes?
Why take a day off for worship, loved-ones and rest? We are not designed to run around 24/7/365. You’ll burn out eventually if you do. God gives us a day each week to take a break so we remember who we are, whose we are, and to remember what is important in life.
Why honor your parents or other people in authority? Families are not perfect, just as people are not perfect. They are full of sinful, broken people who don’t follow directions very well. Yet God gives us families for our protection, nurture, to pass on learning, wisdom and faith, and of course, love. It doesn’t always look pretty, and people do not always make the best decisions on our behalf. But all authority is given by God for the sake of keeping us safe and being accountable for us. We should challenge authority when it destroys people and rules over them unjustly, and at times those in authority should be removed from positions of power. But the position of authority – those offices of authority – parent, teacher, official, and so on, serve real purposes in our lives and are to be respected; the responsibility God entrusts them with is great.
Why not kill, steal or commit adultery? Just consider what it would feel like to be attacked, stolen from, or cheated on, and no one cared that it happened at all. Contrary to our culture’s obsession with violence, sex and exploitation, God intends for us to live in community to protect one another, the innocent, and those who cannot defend themselves in all walks of life.
Why not lie or at least bend the truth occasionally? All people are created in the image and likeness of God, and words matter. Choose yours carefully, wisely, and clearly. Have you heard what you sound like sometimes?
Why not want what others have – things or relationships? God wants us to be grateful for the things we have and the people in our lives. It is difficult to be generous when all we do is accumulate. It is difficult to nurture the relationships we have if we are pining for another.
Not for Climbing
God gives the Ten Commandments to structure our lives, so that we serve God and others in a structured way that is life-giving and life-affirming. Take the carabiner in the picture as an example. It says, “Not for climbing,” for a good reason. carabiners used for climbing are made of steel. They are thicker than this one is. They have an extra bolt that screws it shut to keep it from opening where the rope could slip out. The pictured carabiner serves a different purpose. It holds keys. It can hold a water bottle or another item. It can clip to your belt loop or to a backpack. But it is not designed to hold you up if you use it for climbing. This is true of the Ten Commandments as well. They are not for climbing. They won’t hold you up if you lord them over others or think yourself better than they are. You can’t climb up to God and escape this world if you keep them correctly. Actually, they do the opposite. They are intended for our life here on the ground. And when we use them for any other purpose we are going to fall, and we splatter all over the place with our reckless behavior. That’s what God’s Law does – it shows us how we are supposed to live for our own benefit and the benefit of others, and it shows us how we make such a mess of things; because when we hear the words, “Not for climbing” we look for the first available mountain.
As I’m writing this I am preparing for a family trip to the Swiss and French Alps. I’ve seen the Alps before and they are simply breathtaking. The air trams engineered to bring people up to the top of mountains so average people like me can enjoy them close-up are simply amazing. God’s handiwork is something to behold. Humanity’s efforts are something to behold too. So is the constant destruction we make of our world, one another, and our relationship with the One who gave us everything, the God of this universe who wants us to be safe, protected, loved, nurtured, and free to love one another as much as he loves us.
Whether you are on the mountain top, in the lowest valley, somewhere in-between, on a journey to a distant place or settling in back at home after a long summer – know that on this day, whatever rules you’ve broken, whatever people you’ve hurt, however many times you have turned away from God, or how unworthy you think you might be, Jesus goes to the top of the mountain for you – to suffer and die, to make amends, to catch you from falling, to put you back on the ground where you belong.
Turn around. Repent. Live free and forgiven. Give thanks. Be at peace and make peace wherever you go. Enjoy the scenery and those God has given you to enjoy it with. Above all, keep your carabiner clipped to the only one who promises to raise you from the dead.
Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” (Mark 14:27-28)