Thanksgiving from the Ten Commandments
Thanksgiving, or gratitude, comes, I suppose we would all agree, from the heart. But while for most of us the heart is metaphorically the seat of feeling and emotion, for the Bible the heart is thought of differently. There it is metaphorically styled as the seat of the intellect, passions, and will. I liken it NASA’s “command center.” There our priorities (deepest convictions), passions (what moves us to act; what Jonathan Edwards called the “affections”), and practices (what we do) ideally work in concert to bring us integrity. This is that place of integration where we experience coherence, compassion, and commitment as one in the deepest core of our being. Here, deep below the surface commotions and crisis through which we all live, lies joy. And joy is the sibling of freedom.
That brings us to the Ten Commandments. Here we discover in this founding statement of Israel’s God this integrity for which we are all created and in some way or another (sometimes awfully distorted ways) seek to find. Therein lies the shape of integrity, the parameters of freedom, and the shape of joy. And all that embraced and internalized spells “thanksgiving” or “gratitude.”
Here’s a brief look at them.
1Then God spoke all these words:2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 You must have no other gods before me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. 6 But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 Do not kill.
14 Do not commit adultery.
15 Do not steal.
16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Everything here begins with God – “then God spoke” (v.1). These are not our best and highest thoughts and aspirations writ large and projected on to heaven. We humans do that occasionally. They’re called utopias. But inevitably they turn into dystopias because they are nothing more than our own best and highest thoughts. Perhaps after the 20th century, the most brutal, destructive, inhumane century on record, fired as much of it was by such “utopic” imaginings, we might be a bit more open to such a perspective.
The historical prologue (v.2) declares that God has not only spoken but has acted to liberate his people from slavery. God’s word and deed join hands in offering to his people a life that rests in such a God. Here is the priority, the deepest conviction or priority that entrusts us to the care of this God. The first of these commandments (v.3) then requires us to order our hearts to God’s word and deed.
In vv.4-6,7,10 we finds the passions addressed, those energies that move us to act. Such energies, under the right ordering of our priorities, is energy that impels us to be who God made and called us to be: God’s image-bearers rather our own image or “idol” makers (v.4-6); to act in God’s name and with God’s honor, integrity, and reputation foremost in our acting (v.7); and to order our desires rightly (v.17).
The remainder of the commandments deals with our practices, both toward God (Sabbath, v.8-11) and toward shaping a human community that lives from and to genuine freedom: respect for authority, marriage, life, property, and neighbor (vv.12-16).
Imagine such a community and life lived this, exploring how to enact such worship of God and respect for the rest of life in ever-growing ways in ever-more complex forms of human relationships!
Rooted in an absolute priority of worshiping the true and living, that is, liberating, God, and driven by the passions of acting as who we are created to be, for God’s honor, and with rightly ordered passion, such a life and world become our godly preoccupation.
And when our priorities, passions, and practices join arms to move us in concert into this kind of integrity, we realize that all along these commandments have first been promises to us of what God would graciously do in and among us so that he might command us to do them confident that we are able to do what he asks! When that realization dawns, well, then our hearts (biblically conceived) will swell and we will give thanks, true thanks, to the God “who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us” (Eph.3:20) no matter what our circumstance may be.