It is true that life is unpredictable, and that in the 21st century, we are bound to encounter the unexpected more often than would be the case in earlier centuries. New knowledge, new ideas and new technologies are the order of the day. Nevertheless, a proper understanding of the Ten Commandments does help prepare us for all this, because its precepts are constant.
The first thing to remember is that love is greater than law. Apostle Paul reminds us that no one can become righteous by means of law but by the quality of our lives aided by God’s grace.
How then do we actually understand the Ten Commandments? We should see them as a law of love. One could fulfil most of the Commandments because of a fear of punishment, but that is really self-serving and self-centred. One could fulfil the Commandments as an obligation, and that is good for society, but has no real spiritual value, and does not actually prepare us for the unexpected.
Let us look at the most difficult of these Commandments, the one that is hardest to fulfil: the Tenth. This is the longest and most revealing of the Commandments. Do not covet (i.e., be jealous and envious of) anything that your neighbour has. This Commandment can only be truly fulfilled by those who follow Christ’s commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” If we truly fulfilled this, instead of feeling envy, we would rejoice that our neighbour has these things. But then, we would not even think of stealing, committing murder, or any of those other things which would cause pain or suffering to anyone else. And if we were to fulfil the other part of Christ’s commandment to “Love the Lord our God with our whole being,” we also would not violate those commandments which tell us not to betray God. Then, the Ten Commandments would become a recipe for growing in love, compassion and care for not only our neighbours, but for the world which God has created and gifted to us. Taking care of the environment would then also be an act of love for neighbours and for God, and for future generations not yet born.
The main direction of the Ten Commandments is to guide us away from egoism, self-love and self-indulgence. It is to help us resist the counterfeits that Satan and the advertising industry try to offer us in place of an authentic life and the real gifts that God has given us. Among those gifts are our neighbours.
In every encounter we have, if we are guided by the Ten Commandments, we are called upon to resolve our reaction by the measure of the Ten Commandments. Will my reaction cause pain and suffering to others? Will my reaction in someway betray love for God? If my reaction will hurt others, then it IS a betrayal of God. What is true justice? It is certainly not expressed in “punishment.” It is expressed in accepting the reality that other people are different from us, but that they still deserve to be recognized as equal human beings who suffer the same as we and who rejoice the same as we. We can love our neighbour as ourselves only when we come fully to grips with the reality that what makes us hurt also makes them hurt, that what causes us suffering also causes them suffering, that what gives us peace and joy also gives them peace and joy; when we learn that our reaction to every new challenge of humanity carries with it consequences not only for us, but for others as well. We learn that violence breeds violence, that our greed and self-centred consuming may deprive future generations of the basic necessities of life, that everyone has a right to life, peace and the enjoyment of life, no matter that they are different from us and that we do not understand them. By this measure, we should assess all new technologies, and every unexpected event or thing that we encounter in life.
These measures drawn from the proper understanding of the Ten Commandments do give us a guide and preparation to encounter and face the unfamiliar, the unexpected and the inexplicable. As a rule of thumb, we can say that if our action is selfish and egoistic it is sin, but if it is unselfish and caring, it likely is not.
In Christ, Vladiko Lazar.