How often, when we think about the Ten Commandments, do we see them in the negative light of prohibitions? What if we were to consider instead that their main purpose was to point to a life of fulfillment in God?
Joy Davidman (who later became the wife of C. S. Lewis) wrote a book back in 1953 that is little read today. That’s a shame. In it, she takes a fresh look at those Ten Commandments and shows how we should see them, not through the face of fear or as the Ten Killjoys of life, but rather as life-affirming because they, if followed, would lead to true joy and enjoyment of life as God intended.
The book is called Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments. Not only do I appreciate her perspective, I also am struck by her lively style of writing. In the introduction, for instance, she handles that old cliché about God being a life preserver quite deftly:
God, for many of us, is a life preserver flung to a drowning man.
And so he is, if you happen to be drowning. But you can’t drown all the time. Sooner or later you have to start merely living again; you reach shore, splutter the water out of your lungs—and then what? Throw away the life preserver?
If your interest in God is based upon fear rather than love, very likely. In such a case, you will be willing to pay very high for that life preserver as you go down for the third time; you will offer for it all your worldly treasures, your lusts and greeds and vanities and hates.
But once safely on shore, you may be minded to throw it away and snatch your treasures back.
Saint Augustine phrased the Christian law as: “Have charity and do what you like.” The modern materialist often makes it simply: “Do what you like,” and then rushes off to ask his psychoanalyst why he no longer seems to like anything. Whereas the Pharisee, alas, tends to invert Augustine into: “Neither do what you like nor have charity.”
All too often, she says, Christians make God’s law a deadening thing, not at all what He intended:
For we live in an age of fear, and we have infected our very faith with our paralysis, as certain previous ages infected it with their cruelty. No wonder the Decalogue makes us uncomfortable. We have turned it from a thrilling affirmation into a dull denial.
Yet there was the sound of trumpets in it once.
The Law, the apostle Paul said, is a tutor to lead us to Christ. But it’s not a harsh tutor—it shows us what life would be like if we were to obey it. Through Christ, we now can enter into the kind of life God has always wanted for us.