10 Commandments in the Modern World Part 1 – YOU SHALL HAVE NO GODS BEFORE ME

Many years ago I wrote an article here for New Evangelizers called “Disclaimers When Talking About Sin.” That article was based on the preparation I do in class before we go into the 10 Commandments. However I came to the realization that with that article I did the preparation without the content.
This article will be the first in a series that will act as in depth reflection of how the 10 Commandments given to Moses and the Hebrews thousands of years ago apply to our modern lives. Of course there will always be more insight that can be mined from these Commandments than what we can discuss in a single article or even a series of articles. But we will use these as starting points to reflect upon how well we measure up under God’s Law.

As you may know, there are two different listing of the 10 Commandments. The first can be found in Exodus 10:1-17 and another found in Deuteronomy 5:4-21. While they cover the same material, they order them and combine them a little differently. In Exodus, the 1st Commandment is to place no gods before God and the 2nd forbids the creation of “graven images.” Also in Exodus, the final commandment admonishes to covet your neighbors wife and goods. The list of Commandments in Deuteronomy combines the first two in Exodus into one Commandment and splits the last Commandment in Exodus into two separate ones.

Why does this matter? It is important for purely referential reasons. Most Catholics learned the list of Commandments that were based on Deuteronomy while most Protestants use the listing from Exodus. So when we reference the “Seventh Commandment,” Catholics will think of “You Shall Not Steal” and Protestants will think of “You Shall Not Commit Adultery.”

We, of course, will use the traditionally Catholic ordering of the Commandments.

The first Commandment is actually the most important of all the Commandments. And yet how often do we Catholics confess sinning against the first Commandment?

Why is it the most important? Because every sin is a sin against the first Commandment. It is the description of a perfect human life. When it says “You shall have no gods before me,” it is not primarily speaking to us modern Christians about avoiding worshiping Zeus, Ra, or Baal. Instead, if you were to the Commandment into the form of a question it would be:

Is God first in my life?
Any time we put something else before our love and devotion to God, that thing becomes an idol or “god” that we place ahead of the one true God.

Fr. Larry Richards once took us on a reflection that brought this point home to me. I will ask you do this thought exercise along with me now:

I want you to imagine the five people or things that you love the most. They could be a parents, friends, spouses, pets, important family heirlooms, a pair of roller skates… whatever. But these should be the five things or people you love the most, that have the greatest importance in your life. And no, you cannot group them together and have “family” be one thing and “friends” be another. Each thing must be individual.
So now you have the five things or people you love the most. But life is horrible and you lose one. Pick the one that you can let go of and hold onto the other four. These four are the most important things or people to you.
But life sometimes gets worse and not better, right? So you lose another, so it leaves you with three. Each of these three people or things are so important to you that you could endure the loss of all else but these.
And yet even though we experience loss, it often compounded by more loss. And you lose another. So now you are left with only two. Imagine holding one of them in one hand and the second in other. These are the two things or people you love more than anything. You will hold onto them and keep them in your life with every last ounce of your strength.

But as we learn from Job, loss is a part of life. Now you have to let go of one more. And you are left with only one. And that thing or person you now know is what you love the most. Because it was the one thing or person you could not live without. Everything else could be lost except that. Nothing else is more important than your final one.

If that one is not God Almighty, then you have just sinned against the first Commandment.
Now, if you are anything like me, at the end of that exercise I was a bit saddened and shamed because on my first reflection God was not my final one. And that isn’t to say that all of the things in our top five are bad. We should love our friends and family with intensity of heart. But in the end, above everything else, we must place God. We are commanded to place God at the top.
Why? Because that’s what He did for us.

Imagine God the Father and in one hand He has His perfect Son Jesus. No one will love the Father more, please the Father more, or be a better reflection of the Father’s greatness. In the other hand is you in all of your humanity, frailty, imperfection, and sin. Only one of you could be spared the punishment for sin; it would have to be either you or Jesus.

And God the Father chose you!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” (John 3:16)

You are the first in God’s life and there is no price He is not willing to pay in order for you to be happy, even if that means giving up His only Son.
Can we say the same? God gives us everything. How much do we give to God? Is He at the center of my life? Is He the first person I think of in the morning and the last before I fall asleep? Do I make time for Him in my day or do I fit Him into my schedule.

There are three practical ways we can measure how we are following the first Commandment.
1. Do I Pray Every Day? The people in our lives know how important they are to us by how much time we give them. Time is life. Every second we give is a second we don’t get back. The way we spend our free moments indicates how much we love something. By this measure, some of us love our TV’s or iPhones more than anything. But how much time do we give God? St. Francis De Sales said that everyone needs at least a half an hour of prayer every day unless you are very busy. If you are busy, then you need an hour. That is because busy people begin to think that their work is more important than God.
2. Am I Superstitious? There is nothing wrong with participating in certain local traditions like not walking under ladders or throwing salt over your shoulder. But to engage in superstitions is to place yourself under the mastery of these practices apart from God. There is nothing wrong with having a “good luck charm” as long as you acknowledge that it something that brings you physical or psychological comfort and that this object is not somehow imbued with supernatural potency.
3. Am I Involved with the Occult or Divination? It should be obvious that things of a dark spiritual nature should be avoided like devil worship, witchcraft, and the like. But even things like horoscopes should not be taken seriously. Again, there is nothing wrong with reading a horoscope just to see what it is, but it would be wrong to try and pull out a sign from the fates from those horoscopes. We could not take the power that belongs to God and use it for our own ends. And keep this in mind, many cases of demonic possession begin with encounters with occult things like Ouija boards. The evil spiritual world is out there and engaging with these things may result in opening a door you cannot close.
There are, of course, more ways to keep in line with the first Commandment. But above all we must remember that in our lives nothing should come before Our Lord.

© W.L. Grayson, 2016

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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