Prescription for Freedom
The Law of God is the best thing that can happen to us.
By Gabriel E. Maurer
While visiting one of my favorite bookstores in Berne, that title attracted my attention. In order to experience more freedom in life, children need clear limits, says author Peter Angst, a family specialist. The best way to help children meet the challenges of a postmodern society in search of values and orientation is to give them norms, clear rules for their lives. Freedom derives from personally adopted limits.
The principle also applies to the Christian experience. In His grace God has determined that freedom and growing perspectives are important for human beings. And to ensure this, He has set some clear limits through the Ten Commandments.
It’s fascinating to see how God has met this very human need. While libraries are overloaded with volumes on public law, God manages to govern the entire world by ten commandments. And Jesus, the Savior-Creator, condenses them even further—to two principles: love God above all and your fellow human as yourself.
With His law God opens for us a window to freedom—a controversial point, indeed. For how can a system that establishes limits to our life and behavior be considered a framework for freedom?
The Bible speaks against lying, thereby setting up very clear limitations to our life and behavior. This means that our strategy for reaching a certain goal can never include falsehood, dishonesty, cheating, or any such methods. In certain situations this can create the feeling that there is a disadvantage in being honest. But God intends such limits as “windows to freedom.”
A Case in Point
I remember one day entering a classroom to find the students unusually quiet. Soon I discovered why. It was winter and a window had been broken. Students looked at each other with suspicion, the tension grew high, until suddenly one of the students stood up and confessed: “I was the one who did it. Sorry.”
All of a sudden the atmosphere completely changed. Faces relaxed, creativity started to work, and it took only seconds to develop a strategic plan: we will all contribute to the replacement of the window. Tears overwhelmed the honest student and he learned an important lesson of life: being honest generates trust, creates solidarity, and gives one the feeling of inner liberation.
This principle applies to all the commandments. Being respectful to parents develops in believers the ability to deal meaningfully with authority. Being faithful to one’s spouse develops social and emotional abilities that significantly contribute to one’s happiness. And respecting others’ emotional and social property (the last five commandments) creates the atmosphere needed for healthy human interrelations.
For Our Protection
In a society searching for orientation, biblical values and norms offer significant help. God Himself has determined the values that should govern our relationships, both with Him and our fellow humans—values of love, respect, and humble self-confidence.
And love is the foundation. Love for God and love for our fellow beings, recognizing the fact that we as well as all others are each unique masterpieces of the Creator. Like every other piece of art, the Ten Commandments bear the footprints of its Author. They are an expression of God’s character, designed to bring us to a life of joy, happiness, and meaning. Like the rules of the road (against which we sometimes rebel), they were designed for our protection and safety.
The commandments are for all people, but it’s instructive to notice their value to the people of Israel, to whom (as a people) they were first audibly spoken. As they left Egypt, the Israelites had not yet developed a unified, corporate identity. But their common roots in Abraham, the common goal of reaching Canaan, and, most significantly, the common system of norms provided by the Ten Commandments contributed to their development into a viable community. For a people on the move, that common system of values and norms proved decisive in preserving their identity and preventing their dissolution. Respecting God, worshipping God, giving God exclusive rights over their lives, and celebrating the Creator’s day of rest—all these experiences tied a bundle of individualists together into a nation, highly admired, respected, and feared.
These are important considerations in today’s context of international and intercontinental migration. Important considerations also for those on the journey to God’s coming kingdom. The commandments provide a moral compass in an age of relativism. Through God’s law the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and brings us to a sense of utter helplessness. In the words of one Adventist statement, “The law of God is the instrument by which the Spirit calls us to repentance.”
A Positive Twist From Jesus
As if reacting to the human tendency to suspect everything that starts with “You shall not,” Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount frames the law of God in a positive context. Two elements become evident:
1. Everything comes from the heart. It is not the words of the law that matter more, He said. Rather, it’s the spirit of the law. Going even further, He emphasized that even our thoughts—the state of our mind and spirit—can contribute to a life that either confirms or confronts the law of God. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder,’ and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matt. 5:21, 22, NKJV). Thus He sought to turn the 10 “prohibitions” into 10 meaningful life options.
2. Positive action for life. Jesus shows us in the Sermon on the Mount how the law of God can bring immediate improvement to our lives. Do not expect others to treat you kindly, He said. Do not expect others to be respectful. Rather, determine this quality of relationship by your own initiative: “All you wish people would do to you, start doing this by yourself to others.”
Thus, the 10 “prohibitions” become the 10 infinite perspectives. You do not need to despise your parents, your spouse, your fellow human beings. God gives you a better condition for regulating such relationships. We are the ones to create a context of mutual respect, honesty, and faithfulness when it comes to dealing with the people surrounding us.
The law of God is the best thing that can happen to us, so to speak. In an advanced religion high school class, we were speaking about the seventh commandment, when suddenly a young woman, with an appearance that gave little evidence of any interest for the “rules of God,” challenged us: “Do you really think you can come with such antiquated stuff today?” Immediately an interesting discussion started, the end of which surprised even me.
After almost an hour of arguments among the students, the young woman concluded, as follows: “I think I have discovered the point: I have a friend, and sometimes I fear that another girl could just take him away. Thinking ahead to the time I will be married, it would be a world catastrophe to lose the husband I love. God has given us a rule that, seriously accepted, could take fear away, give confidence in the future of our relationships, and protect ourselves and our beloved from the threat of an unrealistic no-rule life. I think it is good enough to take this as a rule for my own life. In fact, God’s law is the best that could happen to us.”
Gabriel Maurer serves as the executive secretary of the Euro Africa Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Berne, Switzerland.