Should the Ten Commandments Be Displayed in Public Spaces?

Some insist the answer must be NO. Their insistence reveals a part of what they secretly believe about the power and authority of these words.

Others say the answer ought to be YES. The ones with this view tend to overstate the value of such a display. Take it from an author: Just because words are out there, that doesn’t mean they will be read. And with the Ten Commandments, we are to do more than read. We are to acknowledge the power of the words and allow that power to reshape us.

Recognizing this, between two people committed to these two opposing views, the one in the NO camp might actually have the heart that is nearer to the truth about the Ten Commandments.

A commentary by Rev. Stephen Yates of Destin, Florida illustrates this point wonderfully. What does it take to move people? Rev. Yates says 500 pounds per commandment won't necessarily do it.

See also this post on public displays as a form of regifting.

Living Free

God is, by definition, the most free being in existence. Progress toward God means progress in the direction of greater freedom.

The Ten Commandments start with a line that seems to make this point. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” God said in Exodus 20:2. To bring his people closer, he set them free. All of us need this same gift, and in fact we need to be set free in various ways again and again.

In our routine human decisions, it’s hard to see how to exercise freedom without losing that freedom through those very choices. Am I more free if I own a home or rent? Are you more free if you keep your job or quit it? Would another drink or another TV show be a net positive tonight, or should I stop where I am? Our brains do not figure this stuff out very well.

Part of the problem is a lack of information. A more significant part of the problem is that we are lacking in our ability to process the information we have. Our thinking gets cramped within the false priorities that have been given to us by others, or that we have chosen for ourselves. Bound up in these confining mindsets, we get tricked into trading away freedom instead of using and enjoying it.

A way of stating this within the language of the Ten Commandments is that we bow down to idols and other gods. We worship what is small—and these objects of worship keep us as small as they are. To stand up, therefore, lift your worship.

Doing this means shaking loose of the wearying mindsets. It means letting go of everything that isn’t worth revering, everything that stands in the way of your seeking God by living out the special life he created just for you. This letting go will prove to be the process of a lifetime, but that’s OK. Your only role is to turn to the one who actually produces the change. “I am the one who sets you free,” said God.

If it seems ironic that God’s announcement about freedom was immediately followed by a list of commands, then that irony is just a mirage produced by our own misunderstanding. Other mirages shimmer within that same misunderstanding. Seeing the commandments as ten stern rules and trying to obey them through human effort is also an error—an impossible one at that. Jesus showed the way to be human, be free, and live in harmony with these commands, all at the same time.

To begin to see more clearly, it is valuable to appreciate this much: God, the source of freedom, is also the object of freedom. Freedom lies in his direction, meaning the loss of freedom lies in every direction aimed at something else. The Ten Commandments paint a picture of what it looks like to keep on living free.

Thank You, Mariemont Town Crier

I am grateful to the Mariemont Town Crier, which published an interview with me in this month’s edition. Here is an excerpt:

What prompted you to write the book?

For as widely recognized as the Ten Commandments are, they tend to be little-read and overlooked. Someone who regularly reads the Bible might gloss past these words, seeing them as familiar terrain, while a person not interested in the Bible might see these words as having little relevance today. Either view is unfortunate. The Ten Commandments are a rich, beautiful, stately body of text. My book grew out of the experience of reading the Ten Commandments as if for the first time, studying the text in search of the depth of its meaning, and looking at other parts of the Bible by the light of these special words that were inscribed in stone.

Did you collaborate with anyone, or is there someone you would like to thank?

I would like to thank my wife Kaye. The book wouldn’t exist without her support and encouragement. She helps me preserve space and time for my personal writing in our life together. Doing this is not easy. We live in a small house that bursts with the dramas of children.

What is the book about?

The book’s central message is this: The Ten Commandments contain more than rules. A patient examination of the text finds meaning that goes beyond the list of commands. For example, interconnections between the commandments chart spiritual principles that are basic for understanding our lives—almost spiritual laws of physics. Plus, the structure of the commandments maps a certain path or progression—a route by which a lost and wandering people (whether in the desert or in the modern world) can make their way toward a fuller, richer, more joyful experience of the Creator.