Yesterday, my wife who home schools our children, asked me how she was supposed to explain something from my oldest child’s religion book. My daughter is in first grade, and her religion is a heavily watered down version of the Roman Catholic Catechism, and they have just started the Ten Commandments. The have just gotten to the first commandment and even in it’s watered down state, is pretty explicit towards what should be done, what should not be done and of course, everyone’s favorite, what is forbidden. As adult Christians, all these can seem to be pretty straight forward, also as adult believers, we also have a better understanding of the love God has for us, especially concerning grace, mercy and forgiveness. understandably, a six year old does not.
To paraphrase, it basically says to love God you pray to him, worship him and adore him. The commandment forbids not praying to Him, not adoring Him, and then the kicker, you cannot put anything before God. Again, seemingly obvious. Also seemingly obvious is that we, as believers, fail this commandment everyday. What began in the Garden of Eden continues, and will continue until Christ’s return. Thankfully, we have faith that god sent His son Jesus so that we may be made free from the bondage that sin brings through our own fault. In other words, yes, God has given us commandments, but He also knows that we are imperfect beings, so God sent His Son Jesus that we might be saved and forgiven. Unfortunately, this is never mentioned in the extremely watered down religion course, at least not yet, and as it often can, beginning with the rules, regulations and punishments first, it can lead to confusion, fear and utter distaste for the Faith.
Before I continue, I as a middle age man and someone who has studied these things understand that a catechism, whether it is Catholic, Anglican or whatever is used to direct the conversation of faith, proclaim foundations of faith, and to encourage discussion of faith. Often times, however, we get caught up in the list, and we lose the encouraged discussion. In this case the Ten Commandments are important, but they do not paint the whole picture.
In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus sums up the law – not just the Ten Commandments, but the entire historic legal code of the Hebrew people – Love God with all of your heart, soul and mind; Love your neighbor as yourselves. This is it, these two commandments from Jesus hold the keys to all the law and the prophets. The entire Old Covenant is summed up here, and the fruit of that is Jesus Himself. in other words, yes, there are laws, and their purpose is to direct us in loving God and others – just like God loved (and loves) the world. However, The Father knows this is impossible in its totality, obviously, and because He loved, He gave, and His gift is our salvation. Are we capable of truly loving god and our neighbor? I’d say to a point, yes, but ultimately we are a flawed humanity, only “made perfect” through Christ, and therefore no, we are not. That does not mean we are not to make the attempt, but we are to recognize that it is only through God’s grace and mercy that we even have the ability to achieve this love. Because of God’s love for us, we have the opportunity and ability to attempt the love of Him and others, and this love of God is most evident in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion of Christ.
So to answer my wife’s question, to love God we must love others. We must also love ourselves to be able to love others. To be able to love ourselves, we must accept the gift of forgiveness that God has given us. To accept the gift of forgiveness, we must acknowledge and confess that we are not perfect, that we have sinned, and we must be truly sorry and contrite for our sins. In acknowledging our sins, we acknowledge that our only hope is God – The Father, His gift to us Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. In our acknowledgement that God is our hope and our salvation, we proclaim that God is the only God, and in doing so, we put nothing else before Him. By proclaiming this, we show our love and affection for God, and the cycle continues. Though sin can and will continue, for all of us, so does the grace and mercy of God. there is no shortage.
As we continue along in Advent, we both prepare our hearts for the celebration of the gift that is Jesus Christ, and we also acknowledge that we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We do acknowledge that sin exists, and we, as human beings are sinners. However, our focus should be, as always, on the Cross that bore Christ, but also on the woman and manger that bore Him too. Finally, when we come together to celebrate the Birth of Our Lord, we can both acknowledge our sins – our breaking of God’s commandments, but we can also celebrate and be thankful that we can be, and are forgiven.