Monday, November 19, 2012

Usus Politicus

The "political" or "civil use" of the Decalogue often gets little or no attention these days.  But every polis needs a legal code that will shape the way people live in relation to one another; and the ten commandments have an inexorably social dimension.  Yahweh gave the Ten Words to an amorphous Israel gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai.  It was to be the charter for their new culture, foundational words that would mold and shape them into a peaceful, productive society.  The Decalogue is not given simply to guide individuals in their religious, private piety.  They are about how the community is called to live together in marriages, families, cities, and larger communities.  Here are two ways of summarizing the Ten Words that bring out the cultural focus.

The first way highlights what God seeks to promote in human civilization. The Ten Words are intended to form a particular type of society. A community of people . . .

1.  that put their trust in the true God (“In God we trust”), 
2.  that worship God in a fitting way, 
3.  that bear the name of God in a glorious way in their daily lives, 
4.  A civilization that safeguards people from the slavery of never-ending work and frees them to gather for worship on the day of the Lord, 
5.  A culture that honors and obeys parents and others in authority, 
6.  one that protects the life of the innocent, 
7.  that remains true to their marriage covenants.  
8.  that respects the right of private property against theft,
9.  where the courts are respected and justice is the norm because people testify honestly,
10. that are content with what gifts and goods with which God has blessed them.

The second way of summarizing the Ten Words calls attention to what is prohibited and the consequences of violating God's law.  

1.  If a community of people does not trust the true God, then someone will step in and play God, and that is most often “the State.”
2.  People that worship God through the medium of lifeless stone statutes and static images will dehumanize themselves and will bring judgment upon themselves and their children’s children.
3.  A culture that bears the name Christian but does not behave as such will not be able to hide from God’s righteous condemnation.
4. When cultural authorities effectively enslave people by not allowing them rest and/or denying them the freedom of assembly for worship, then the culture is in danger of an Egyptian-style judgment. 
5.  A culture that encourages dishonoring parents and others in authority will not last very long. 
6.  When a nation refuses to protect the life of the innocent, the entire culture will be put to death. 
7.  An adulterous people will experience the unraveling of lesser forms of covenants and contracts.
8.  A nation full of thieves will themselves be plundered.
9.  Without honest testimony, a community’s court system cannot hope ever to administer justice.
10.  Coveting and envying others' gifts and property will result in social unrest.

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