By Staci Stallings
Since I was a little kid, I was taught that "God set down these commandments, and if you break one, He's going to KABOOM you." When it seemed like somebody wasn't kaboomed for an obvious infraction fast enough, we were told: "He may not get you now, but just wait until it's time for Him to choose where you're going when you stand before Him on judgment day!" What they were really saying was: "Be good, or else!"
The ultimate "or else" was of course Hell. "You will be thrown forever into the fiery pits of Hell." Now, this is not to say that there isn't a Hell. I firmly believe there is one, but I no longer believe as I was taught back then that staying out of a physical place called Hell is the point of the commandments. That is not why God gave them to us.
Any parent will tell you they have noticed their child getting close to danger (think the terrific, energetic, fun-loving, try-everything-once-or-maybe-twice twos). When a toddler is obviously thinking about doing something that to an adult will obviously cause that child harm, the parent will say, "Don't do that." "Don't climb on top of the swingset. Get down from there!" "Don't play with the matches." "Don't touch that stove, it's hot." "Don't run with a pencil in your hand!"
Now these "commandments" are not voiced so that the parent can then have a reason to get mad at the child when they do what their heart's content seems to be. No, they are meant to keep the child from a harm that the child either can't see or is willfully dismissing. To the parent it is about the child's long-term safety regardless of how tempting giving in to present desires might be for that child.
To us, as parents, this short-term "fun" is a trap, and it has clear consequences replete with dangerous long-term outcomes. The child however just wonders how hot that stove really is.
This, I think, is the point of the commandments. God is not saying, "If you do this, I will Kaboom you." What He's saying is: "If you do this, you are going to Kaboom yourself"-in the long run! God who is, was, and always will be always thinks in the long term. He can sees the future-just like that parent who knows that there is inherent danger for a child who is running across wet cement at the swimming pool.
Because He can see into the future, God set down these laws or rules for us to follow, thinking of course of our long-term safety and happiness even when it's at the expense of our short-term pleasure. But let's face it, we all hate rules. They are meant (when we look short term) to ruin our fun, to place limits on us, to keep us from doing something we really want to do. However, for most people, if the rule says not to do it, they don't do it-because they are people who follow the rules. That's why many people in the church follow the Ten Commandments-because they are people who follow the rules-not because they've ever really understood the practical reasons why God says, "Don't do that."
But the reality is these rules are very practical. Take lying for instance. Lies are easy to tell. In fact, very often they are easier to tell than the truth. Just ask any six-year-old who's now standing over the pieces of Mom's favorite lamp.
However, what seems easy in the moment can quickly turn very, very difficult when one lie turns to two and two to four and four to eight, and pretty soon we can't remember what is a lie and what is the truth. The long-term reality of what we can't see way back when we tell that first lie is how we will eventually feel when the lies catch up with us, or worse, when we lose our integrity with ourselves.
It seems so easy in the beginning because we are thinking short term, and it's a trap! God knows that. God sees the pain and the heartache and the Hell we are headed toward living when that very first lie comes out of our mouths, and so, He said, "Thou shalt not lie."
Understanding this profound meaning of God and why He gave us the commandments proves beyond a doubt to me that He is not a vengeful God. No, He is a loving God who wants our long-term happiness even when it comes at the expense of our short-term comfort or pleasure. When you truly get that, two things will happen:
You will experience a much deeper, to the bottom of your soul, love of this Father who loves you so much that He is willing to let you be mad at Him in the short term so that you can be happy in the long term. Second, you will begin to look at your missteps (especially those you are about to make) and think of them like your Father does-about where they are taking you long-term. It's a much more conscious place to live than simply doing whatever you want to do or even doing it just because God said to. You will be doing it because it's the right thing for you and for those around you-long term. And I think that is the maturity that God was calling all of us to when He first put His finger to that stone.
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