It is intriguing how the 10 commandments begin, whether set out in Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. In both cases they start with “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the land of bondage.”
In starting with “I am”, we are reminded of how God made His name known to Moses at the burning bush: “I am that I am.” And then we are projected forward into the Gospel of John, where Jesus says: “I am – the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate to the sheepfold; the good shepherd; the way, the truth the life. Whereas in the 10 commandments, God reminded Israel of what He had already done for them, in the gospel of John, Jesus put it into more enduring terms. He was all these things – and more – and for eternity. In each of these aspects of His being, His disciples would find Him and would be renewed in Him. These were aspects of His being which were for ever, and certainly for the dispensation of the church.
But this is only the starting point for the 10 commandments are clear and specific in banning the people from adhering to any other gods before The Lord. And that is where it gets complicated for us as we live in a culture that has many gods. These may not be supernatural deities as we may imagine but rather the contrivances of our culture.
What about science? “Science proves…” Does it and indeed can it? If it is real science, it combines data and observation with theories to explain the data and provide predictions on the behaviour in the future, and indeed which are capable of being reproduced by the exact replication of the original experiments. This science however is also capable of being overturned by subsequent experiments or by the collection and re-analysis of new data sets. Science can never be static: and if it is, then I must question whether this is really science. When however it is invoked to support a religiously-held principle then it becomes something else. The theory of evolution is a useful explanation of the development of life forms – but how far can its claims be supported and demonstrated by reproducible experiment? And at what point does it acquire religious authority to be set in opposite other forms of religious faith? Perhaps the same may be said of the way global warming is debated, and the way conclusions – often of a political nature – are read into its findings. It seems to me that science is a wonderful servant and a domineering and intolerant master.
What about sport? As a form of team-building, and as a way of re-directing aggression, indeed as a ritual alternative to inter-communal warfare, I cannot fault it. When it becomes the only way for communities to define themselves, when it incites aggression, when it becomes a substitute for reasoning and for belonging, then it gains a different kind of loyalty, and with much less wholesome effects. On the other hand when the opposing armies in December 1914 found solace in a simple game of football then something changed.
And politics? When regimes acquire their own dogma and doctrine to support their policies and claims to power then they place themselves in the place of the highest loyalty that belong to God alone. It was true of Nazism and Communism; it easily becomes true of nationalism; it can just as easily become true of blind, unthinking and uncaring capitalism.
So: where do we start? Where are our highest loyalties? Just what other principles of life do we elevate into deities or false gods? Does legality become legalism? Does science become scientism? As we see more and more parts of the world coming under the pressure of violence within and between communities, we need to be especially careful of how we express the things that matter to us, and whether we are granting them an authority that does not belong to them.
Above all perhaps, we also need to turn again from the things that in themselves are good but can distort our visi0on, to He who is the Word, the Way, the Truth, the Life; the Light of the World, the Gateway to the fold and the Good Shepherd, whether in it or out of it. For in all things Jesus is indeed the Bread of Life.