July 22, 2009

Travel-size Morality for Our Convenience

We love that there are Ten Commandments.

I don't mean that we like individual commandments. Lord, no. Many of us hate individual commandments. How dare God tell me not to do x when, right now, all I want to do is x?

No, I mean that overall we like the idea. We especially like the number. "Ten" is a comfortable concept. We have ten fingers and ten toes. We use a numeric system with ten digits, 0 through 9. We make top ten lists. When we remake The Taming of the Shrew, we end up with 10 Things I Hate About You. It's a very comfortable number for any of... well, at least ten reasons.

If we divide the commandments into two groups, as is done in many good depictions, we have three commands related to God and seven relating to other people. Three and seven - also stand-out numbers. Three is a wonderfully significant number for Christians - the number of days Jesus spent in the tomb, the number of persons in the Trinity. Seven is also easy to remember - days of the week (per God's design!), number of dwarves.

Moreover, I suspect we like how short and sharp they are. Compare a commandment to any statute in your town charter; the commandment is shorter and more direct. It's probably easier to read.

The Commandments are compact - travel-sized for our convenience. Between their brevity and their number, they seem designed to be remembered. God made us a memory aid. With a nod to my own day-job, I would call this a "performance support system".

Finally, as Chesterton reminds us, the Commandments are there - believe it or not - to make us happy. It may not seem it at many points in our lives, looking from our own limited perspective, but God wants us to be happy!
"The truth is, of course, that the curtness of the Ten Commandments is an evidence, not of the gloom and narrowness of a religion, but, on the contrary, of its liberality and humanity. It is shorter to state the things forbidden than the things permitted: precisely because most things are permitted, and only a few things are forbidden." - G. K. Chesterton, ILN 1-3-20

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