The God Article, a really interesting website/blog/incubator for thought, recently posted “10 Things You Can’t Do as a Follower of Jesus.” It’s well worth the read. Interesting stuff.
But, as all scholars familiar with the Decalogue (the 10 Commandments) know, it’s not the “Thou Shalt Not’s” that are difficult.
It’s the “Thou Shalt’s” that cause the problems.
I’ll refrain from murdering most weeks, but remembering the Sabbath…that’s tough.
Because the “thou shalt not’s” are about avoiding things, primarily. And we love to avoid things because then we can tally how many times we’re successful at not doing bad things when given the option. And this gives us this sense that we truly are our own saviors. See, that’s the secret behind a lot of Christian piety: it claims Christ as the savior, but then sets up all these other rules by which you actually get the feeling that you’re saving yourself.
And this is why people love to use the word “temptation” when they talk about sin. We feel that we can beat temptation with enough will power. With enough sense, we can avoid the bad and do the good.
With the “thou shalt not’s” of life, all sorts of other things are permissible. You can’t covet your neighbor’s house and wife, but you sure as hell can buy one bigger or marry one prettier! You shall not murder; maim away. You shall not bear false witness, but what about slightly false witness?
This is exactly how a rules-based society works: let us know what is over the line so that we can avoid that line.
But with the Christian story, with life, the “thou shalt not’s” are not where the meat lies. And a Christian life is not rules-based…despite what you might have heard.
For this life the meat lies in the “thou shalt’s.” Because in them there is no exception.
And a careful reading of the Lord’s Prayer in the Scriptures might be helpful because the best translation is not “temptation” but rather “trial.”
And the time of trial is not one where you are avoiding the bad and choosing the good, but rather are in between a situation to the point where you do not know which way is bad and which way is good and you must step out nonetheless.
And the trial portions are the “thou shalt” portions of life…because choosing for something is harder than being against something.
So, I wonder then, what would be the “10 Things You Must Do As a Follower of Jesus”?
Here’s my attempt:
1) Love the Lord your God
2) Love your neighbor as yourself
3) Repeat #’s 1 and 2
4) No, seriously, 1 and 2 again
5) Why do you think there are other ones?
6) You can stop reading
8) You really want more rules, don’t you?
9) I can’t give you another thing to do, sorry
10) Why the hell can’t you just do 1 and 2?
And perhaps it isn’t even that easy.
Because the minute you make a list, or a rule, and that becomes a “must,” then obeying them is now the god of your life.
This is the problem with much of organized religion. It has turned a particular philosophy and worldview (it’s own) into the “way the truth and the life” and it then fails to point beyond itself.
This is what happens when anyone thinks they have a direct revelation. They, then, become more authoritative than the revelation itself.
We try to turn things into gods all the time, especially ourselves. This is the true “god delusion”…Dawkins got it wrong. We delude ourselves into thinking our right thoughts, our correct actions, or even ourselves as the bearer of correctness are gods.
I can avoid murder. I can avoid bearing false witness. I do those with some success.
But it’s awfully hard to love God and my neighbor…and even myself, I guess. And even harder to try and figure out what that means when it comes to buying and selling, ethics and morality, and all sorts of real life issues.
Hell, give me a thou shalt not list any time. They’re 10 times easier to follow.
But that’s not where the meat lies, and much of the Christian world pretends that the thou shalt not list is super important when it’s really just a way to placate ourselves into thinking we’ve got it all together because we can avoid certain things with success.
Sure. But can you do #1 and #2 with success?
Call me if you can. Because I suck at it most days. And I’m a reluctant Christian because so much of the rest of Christianity pretends they do #1 and #2 well, when really they’re just checking off their “shalt not” lists and patting themselves on their divine backs.