I grew up in a large family, with three brothers and three sisters. It was a strict enough family too and of course most of the time I resented the various rules we were given. I wanted to have things my way, but I wasn’t allowed to have them my way all the time or there would have been chaos. Now that I am older I can see the wisdom in a lot of the rules that we were given, but at the time they often seemed unfair, or annoying at the very least. What we were taught served its purpose and helped to form us as children. It helped us to learn that there are basic guidelines that we all must adhere to if a family is to work.
A few years ago a friend of mine was at a business conference in Dublin and one of the speakers was saying that as a society we have forgotten some of the basic principles of living, such as honesty and integrity, respect for the human being. He was saying it is largely because of this neglect that we are in the financial crisis we find ourselves in today. Honesty and respect for the human being should be the norm and not the exception. If these are the principles out of which we operate, our society will be a lot healthier.
A couple of years ago a young man asked me was it wrong to lie? He was an intelligent man too. One of the commandments tells us ‘you must not bear false witness’, that is, ‘you must not lie.’ That gives you an idea of the kind of confusion that is around us.
I know that in the past many people have had bad experiences of an over-demanding Church, which for a while focused too much on sin and everything that was wrong. That is not healthy. However, God has given us various teachings which are there to help us. The most basic of these are the commandments. They are there to help us. God tells us that if you want to do well as a society, if you want to flourish, then stick to these principles: It is wrong to steal, to lie, to cheat, to kill, to commit adultery. We must honour God and respect Sunday as a holy day, a day when God is worshiped because God deserves to be worshiped, whether it suits us or not, and that must take priority over anything else.
The commandments of God are essentially a blue-print for living. If we follow these commandments and do our best to live them, we will do well as a society. That is basically what God told the people through Moses, some 4000 years ago and those basic principles have not changed.
All down through the centuries the people continually strayed away from the commandments and worshipped false gods and when they did this their society began to fall apart. Then they realised what they had done and they asked forgiveness from God and tried to be faithful again. The Bible is essentially a collection of stories showing this. The people continually stray away from God, get into trouble, then realise their mistake and ask forgiveness and God always helps them back on their feet with great compassion.
Another thing that has not changed is that we are still very good at coming up with reasons why we don’t have to keep God’s commandments. People have always been good at coming up with excuses, but ultimately we are going against the very thing that will help us. True freedom is not just about being able to do whatever you want, but being able to choose what is good. Living by the principles God gives us is what leads us to true freedom. And yes this will mean that I can’t have everything my way, but we must choose who it is we wish to serve. If God asks us to keep Sunday holy, well what takes priority, worshipping God, or something else? If we live these commandments it will make us different from many others, but that is where we must decide who it is we wish to follow.
It is tempting to say, ‘I'm sure God doesn’t mind,’ or ‘God will understand.’ But if God doesn’t mind, then why did He give us the commandments in the first place? Why did Jesus fly into a rage when he saw how the temple was being turned into a business instead of a place of prayer? God does mind because He knows what is good for us and what will help us. God wants us to develop into the beautiful creatures that He created us to be.
I came that you may have life and have it to the full (John 10:10).