About Time

The sixth commandment speaks against murder. Jesus said we violate it by committing murder in our hearts (Matthew 5:22).

The seventh commandment speaks against adultery. Jesus said we violate this by committing adultery in our hearts (Matthew 5:28).

The ninth commandment speaks against slander. Could it be that this commandment, too, reaches deeper than what I say or do? I break the ninth commandment whenever I commit my thoughts and emotion to an unfounded conclusion about someone, even if I restrain myself against speaking that conclusion aloud.

The text of the ninth commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Adults translate this commandment to children as, “You shall not lie.” I think that translation lacks something significant. The easier way to slander someone is not to lie, but to tell the truth about them. That is, we tell a selective version of the truth that emphasizes the incendiary facts while ignoring perspective and context. When I slander someone in my thoughts, I do exactly this same thing. In my indignation, I focus on the one or two facts I find objectionable, without giving any space in my mind to the competing facts that might provide balance or allow this person a defense.

The remedy is to seek the fuller truth. Yes, this person said X against something that I hold dear. But did he really mean to imply all that I took from his statement? Yes, that person did Y, which caused me to suffer a problem. But did she have any idea that this would be the effect, or did she have any reasonable choice other than what she did?

Viewed this way, the ninth commandment is seen to be a commandment about time. There is no way to understand someone—let alone love that person—unless you are willing to give time to that pursuit. Relationships are built up through many moments together, and the essential ingredient of all of those moments is time.

Notice that the ninth commandment lines up with the fourth commandment when the two tablets of the Ten Commandments are placed side-by-side. If the first tablet has commandments 1 through 5 and the second tablet has commandments 6 through 10, then commandments 4 and 9 are side-by-side. The fourth commandment says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Thus, time is the current that runs through both commands. The ninth commandment says give time to people, as the fourth commandment says give time to God.