Pastoral Ponderings: Living life with a covenant

Looking at The Ten Commandments in this week’s Pastoral Ponderings column

Robin King

Pastoral Ponderings

May I ask you to take a moment and please consider how you know God?

Wait. Don’t stop reading. Please, trust me, I’m going somewhere with this.

When I ask you to take a moment and please consider how you know God, I’m not really asking in a religious sense. In other words, I’m not asking for your denomination or faith tradition’s definition of God that you subscribe to, as a member. Step away from that for a moment and think about how you know God. You. Know. God.

And if you’re someone who doesn’t think they believe in “God,” per se, I’d ask you to consider how you know the higher power, universal love, fabric of being, energy of creation, or any of the other ways in which we acknowledge that there’s “something” that connects us and inspires us.

I think it’s important to start there because I’d like to say something about the biblical sayings we call The Ten Commandments and I don’t think there’s really any point unless we do start there.

I want to say that, given the world today, we should all maybe revisit these 10 sayings that Exodus records God gave the Hebrew people through Moses. Those people seemed lost and struggling to live together and, frankly, so do we. It seems pretty obvious to me that things like respect for others, taking care of yourself, honouring your parents, honouring life, honouring relationships, being true and being appreciative of what you have are important things to remind ourselves about, strive for and challenge each other to do.

Oh, sorry, those don’t sound like The Ten Commandments? Aren’t they? I just rewrote them a bit. Okay, I rewrote them a lot, and I missed one or two, but I’ll talk about that in a moment. I stand by all those things being contained in the big ten.

The point is I don’t think that what we call “commandments” are commands at all. They’re a way to facilitate relationship. We should want to do them, not because there’s a punishment if we don’t, but because there is incredible benefit when we do.

I don’t believe that the Ten Commandments are law the way we understand law. They’re not the carved in stone words that have often been used to judge. They’re not meant to just control they way we live. They’re so much greater than that.

I believe they’re an attempt to say something much more fundamental about how we live, with God, with ourselves and with each other, something that needs to be taught new to every generation in a way that generation understands. They are about how we should live because we should live. We should live with freedom, not fear. With love, not hate. With peace, not conflict. With joy, not hurt. And we should share power, not exercise it over the weak.

So I reframed the 10 in a way that speaks to me. There’s two things about that. First, almost all of the traditional ten are “thou shalt not,” so I framed then as what thou should. (Okay, I said “you.” I’m not that old.)

Second, these sayings have a context. This is not just a neat social contract. That would be okay, except that would only help behaviour and that’s just working on the surface. No, these are part of a covenant with God. That’s why I began with asking how you know God. Because these ten sayings do, too.

See, if you know God (or the essence or power that we give other names to, as I said above, but I’m going to call God) and understand that this covenant is with that God and you love that God, then all that comes after is framed in that love. So here’s how I see them.

You should know there is one God. We each come to God in our own way, but there’s one God.

You should only worship God. After all, stuff is just stuff.

You should know that God respects your name. So does Jesus. So you should respect theirs.

You should have a day of rest. That’s right, really rest. Even God took a day off.

You should love and honour your parents. They gave you life.

You should honour life and keep it safe.

You should build relationships and honour them.

You should respect what belongs to others.

You should be honest and true.

You should be happy with what you have. Ask yourself, do you really need more?

Try thinking of it this way: if God is love and you love love, then you’ll want to live and share that love and here’s some ways to do that. That takes these ten straight to the heart.

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