Ten Words

Sex, Desire, and How the Commandments Work...

The 7th commandment forbids adultery. Jesus famously expanded the meaning of adultery to include forbidden desire spurred on by the eyes. This expansion has become a bit of difficulty in a world that has learned that the more closely a sneaker corporation can link their product to the image of a woman wearing said sneakers without clothes on, the higher their sales numbers will be. Desire begets desire - even without rational connections. But there it is. We live in a world that has gone to war with anything likened to norms or ordered loves and so we have sexual chaos, and more specifically,  chaotic and disordered desire.

I keep finding the commandments (which we’ve been preaching through at Trinity on Sundays) punching beyond where they seem to be aiming, and the 7th is no different. God simply understands these creatures He made called humans. His rules are well, true and wise and good. Such that when you reject that God made these creatures, and therefore treat his rules as the interesting or even well-meaning artifacts of bygone religious cultures you begin to find yourself behaving as a very serious fool. You will find your entire culture behaving as a very foolish culture. You will find that the hubris of such humans expands rather vigorously. So while we’ve been busy violating the 7th commandment for pretty much forever, we’ve now started calling said commandment stupid and even foolish. Sexually repressive. Nadia Bolz-Weber-Weber (formerly the pastor of House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver) recently refused to condemn the use of “responsibly sourced pornography.” It seems our wisdom has surpassed the wisdom of Jesus and the Ten Commandments. 

The result: The West now seems to be irretrievably confused about sex, but not just sex. It is deeply confused about desire. It is deeply confused about identity. It is deeply confused about genitalia- which is simply to say that it is deeply confused about the nature of reality. 

And much of the evangelical western church has been busy asking a vital question during this time, but we keep healing the wound lightly. The church has been busy asking with ever increasing empathy: How do we communicate God’s love in a world like ours? The more sophisticated among us change “world like ours” to “to a post Christian secular world” (because we read Charles Taylor’s immensely helpful tome The Secular Age, and picked up his language without picking up his sense.) But the Bible answer tends to be far more abrupt than our answer. The bible’s answer is the word “repent.” This means to joyfully, whilst practicing a robust and costly hospitality, tell people to stop living and thinking and philosophizing and voting and eating and sexing as if God didn’t make the world. And that they should do this because this God is merciful and kind and loves us very much and has dealt with our sins in the body and blood of Jesus. Instead of saying and embodying all of that we muddy the waters as much as possible by capitulating to much of what is simply high-handed rebellion. We often bend over backwards to create plausibility and understanding and to empathize with what amounts to attitudes and behaviors that are suicidal and blatantly sin. 

But repentance doesn’t create plausibility structures around rebellion. Love doesn’t create space for people to relish increasingly foolish and destructive confusion. Love calls people to be reconciled to God, and such reconciliation requires repentance. In other words, the way you communicate the love of God in a world like ours, is you tell people to repent. You tell them to stop believing blasphemous and suicidal lies about the universe, about sex, about what God is there or not there, and about what their lives and bodies are for. 

So the Law of God, contained in these Ten Commandments, isn’t simply an arbitrary list of religious and moral rules. They are strands that contain the whole world. Pull on one of them and the whole fabric of society starts to come unraveled.  Pull on one and families and relationships and politics and everything in your deeply personal as well as public life starts to unravel. These aren’t simply legalisms, they are the very wisdom of God. 

Authority and the House

Packed into all of the Ten Commandments is an entire worldview. Here is a whole understanding, not just for morality, but for how the entire cosmos and our own lives work. Understand this, and you won’t be able to read these commands the same way ever again. Fail to understand this and you’ll simply see a rather arbitrary-seeming list of ethical commands. 

We’ve been trained to think of the world as largely a blank canvas with biology and morality and religion and culture as simply socially and evolutionarily constructed paintings put upon that canvas.  The Bible presents a world and all of its integrative relationships as having an actual order to them. They were made a certain way, they were designed a certain way. We can submit to that order or kick against that order, but the fundamental way that the world is, well, that’s not really up for debate or transformation. Kicking against the way the world is designed is foolishness and sin. It’s sin because it rebels against God’s rule. It’s foolishness because we can’t fundamentally change the way that the world or its constitutive relationships work - they will always work that way. We can either run with the grain, living as obedient creatures and enjoying a world created, and thereby ordered by God or we can run against the grain, rebel against both what God has commanded and what God has designed and find ourselves running against the walls of His house over and over again. 

Consider that the world is a house built by God. It has walls and rooms and hallways and electrical outlets and some furniture. It isn’t a blank slate. It isn’t an empty lot. It's a house. It has walls that are already in place. God puts us in the house to live, to enjoy, and maybe to decorate the place. He tells us how to live in the house. Gives us a nice map of how things are laid out - where the walls are, where the sinks are. We do two different kinds of wrongs in this house. We disobey and we try and tear down the walls. God tells us to flush the toilet when we use it. We refuse to flush the toilet. On the other hand he puts a wall there. We don’t like that wall there. We want to move the wall. Problem is, we can’t move the wall. So we pretend it isn’t there and then proceed to run into the wall over and over and over again, blood running down our face, insisting that the wall isn’t really there. 

When people talk about tearing down the patriarchy, this is what is largely happening. There are all sorts of reasons for hating that wall, for wanting to get rid of it. There truly are really terrible men, really terrible fathers. They have authority and wield that authority in ways that are a direct insult to the God whose authority they represent. But instead of simply naming this rebellion and calling these particular fathers and husbands and senators and presidents to repentance, we say that the problem is the wall - the structure - when the real problem is the particularly bad men. On the other hand, there is such a thing as a deep hatred of God - particularly a God who is the Father. That wall is a regular reminder of the God we hate and so we meaninglessly bring sledgehammers and crow bars to beat against the wall (Why do the nations rage… He who sits in the heavens laughs… Psalm 2)

When we come to the 5th Commandment we are confronted with a command that calls us to honor a particular design feature of creation. It instructs us to live in line with the grain of the universe. And it assumes that fundamental to the structure of the world is the concept of authority. Parents, good or bad, represent that structure to us. They are the clearest most in-your-face example of how God made the world. He commands us to honor that structure. In other words, don’t run your head against the wall. And the brilliance of God in giving us this command is that it works both ways. It calls us, all of us as children, to honor authority and how it works - all the way up to our Father in Heaven. And it calls mothers and fathers to the same sort of honor- all authority is designed to reflect authority all the way up - to our Father.  We live at the long end of a rebellion against authority in all of its expressions - because we think that authority is the problem rather than sin. Which is to say, we think the Father is the problem, not us. 

We’ve been trying to remodel the house since the beginning, but God made the house good, very good. The problem isn’t the house or the walls or the placement of the electrical outlets. The problem is sinful men, sinful women, and our relationship with the Home-Owner. 

Sabbath out your fingertips...

We have, all of us, become rather adept at avoiding the terrible danger of taking God seriously when He commands us to do a thing or not to do a thing. We take concrete commands and engage in remarkable gymnastics to make those concrete commands evaporate into a glorious metaphor or a misunderstood prohibition or a cultural inflection. We must, at all costs, keep religion out of the public square, out of our wallets, out of our beds, and perhaps most importantly, out of our calendars. And then the 4th commandment comes along and tells us to do something with our schedules. To be clear, God intends to give us a rather remarkable gift with this command, but it is a gift that must be received and it can only be received if we order our lives to receive it. In other words, it is a command to be obeyed, to be experienced, and received in wonderfully tangible ways (like food and drink and sleep and laughter and a nice fall walk). 

The Sabbath creates all sorts of preachable resonances. It points to the rest that God has given us in the gospel. It anticipates the end of this age, when God’s great renovation project is complete. It hopes for the end of sin and death and all the ways they invade and corrupt our work. It calls us to hope in Jesus’ work rather than our own. It does all those things. Preachers point at these things when they talk about the Sabbath. But none of those things carry much weight - real, tangible, manifestly transformative weight - if we don’t receive the weekly gift of Sabbath rest. God has given us rest from dead works, and he wants us to taste that- to receive that, with weekly rest. God has given us a feast - a celebration, a life restored, and He wants us to experience something of that glory with a weekly feast, a weekly space given to see our bodies, our relationships, our lives restored. 

The sabbath is not meant to merely be an idea of food and rest and joy. It is meant to be an experience of these things. A gift that draws us into the ever-expansive feast, a renewal that draws us into the renewal of all things. But it doesn’t work right if its just in our heads. It doesn’t do its work if its just an idea or a theological metaphor. It must be received. It must be obeyed. 

And this is precisely how the 4th commandments moves us beyond the first 3. The worship of God alone, as He is, and with our whole lives (not vainly) must come out of our fingers. It has to be made real and tangible and will lead us into a profound and joyful obedience. And it is remarkable that God, after establishing the third commandment, begins such tangible obedience with a call to rest. He doesn’t start with painful works we’re to do, rather he begins with a call to feast, to rest, to celebrate His work. But such a command is to be obeyed. Such a gift is given that we might actually receive it. God has given us a kind of obedience that must be worked out, it has to be tangible. In other words, it has to be scheduled. 

Ten Words Dissecting the Human Heart

Here at Trinity we find ourselves quickly approaching the turning point of the Ten Commandments. They have been called the two tablets of God’s law. The first tablet focused on explaining the command: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind and strength. The second tablet focused on explaining the second great commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself. But I want to take a moment and consider the brilliance of how the Ten Commandments work by looking at the sort of life the first three commands prescribe. It describes a tightening circle that understands the particular nuances of human temptation and rebellion. 

First: Worship God alone. Don’t worship anything else besides the God who created everything and redeemed us from slavery. The human heart runs to all manner of different gods. We’ll make gods out of ourselves, our race, our wealth, our comforts, our petty achievements - almost anything. And so God commands us to come and find life and meaning and morality and goodness and beauty in Him above all else. He alone is worthy of our worship. 

But what happens when we are confronted with a God who is other and who doesn’t easily conform to our ideas of what a God should be? What do we do with a God who has such rough edges? What do we do with a God who doesn’t fit with the cultural norms that surrounds us - who isn’t very cool? We make images. Oh, we say we worship God. We sing songs about Jesus. We even open our bibles. But we subtly and sometimes not so subtly start to shave off the edges, give God a set of skinny jeans and hipster social ethics. We start remaining silent about all the ways the God of the Bible makes us or our neighbors uncomfortable. We change God’s image. We make a version of God who fits our own sensibilities. And so God next confronts us with the second commandment: Don’t make an image of God that conforms to what you want or can see surrounding you. 

Israel is confronted with a God who is terrifying in His power and glory. They are afraid. So they pool their theological resources. They raise some money. They make a golden calf - a far more manageable and less frightening vision of God. Romans and Jews see a God who dies on a cross, a God who deals with sin in the most scandalous way imaginable, and they find new images of God that are more palatable. We do the same. We detest holiness or exclusivity or patriarchy or authority or such a narrow understanding of sexuality and so we form new images, cutting out the parts of Him we find embarrassing. We make an image. God says not to do that

The church’s history is riddled with theologians going to great intellectual lengths to change God’s image, to spin God’s words, to avoid saying what God has said.

And then when confronted with a vision of God that is glorious and gracious and offensive and holy- that you can’t alter- what temptation comes next? We empty what it means to be the people of God of all real content - to take the name of God in vain. We become a people who have some sort of superficial association with Jesus, but it is empty. We confess Jesus is Lord, but do not do what He says. We talk about the grace and mercy of God, and do not repent of sin. Where the second commandment confronts the temptation to redefine what “God” means, the third commandment confronts the temptation to retain our desire to live however we want by simply ignoring God. We don’t pray. We don’t take what He says and commands seriously. Our identity as God’s people becomes a kind of empty label, retained to appease parents or a girlfriend or, even better, a girlfriend’s parents. But we’ve never taken seriously the call of Jesus and the real cost of discipleship. 

The Ten Commandments offer us a marvelous view of God’s remarkable understanding of the human heart. He knows us. He knows our particular temptations. He knows the subtle ways we chase after our own autonomy from His reign. He calls us to Himself, as He is and His law is given to lead us there. It is powerless to actually bring us home, but it is a nice map to understand why the way seems so hard. This week we turn our attention to the 4th commandment wherein God commands us to rest, to celebrate, and where He claims ownership over time. This worship and obedience of the one true God must move into the corners of our lives. Join us Sunday as we consider the God who is a fountain, who will not be reduced, who calls us out of vanity and makes uncomfortable claims on every moment of our lives.