Friday, June 20, 2014

The Ten Commandments, True Freedom, the Exploitation of Human Rights, & the Abandonment of Human Responsibility

And God spoke all these words, saying,
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Exodus 20:1-17
            When God speaks his commandments to Israel, he gives the sole reason why his commandments must be followed, namely because Yahweh is the God of Israel.  The mind of the people must be drawn to God alone.  He is the reason why all the items in the commandments must be done.  God’s commandments provide the foundation of human responsibilities.  Since the beginning of time
it has been known that the foundation of ethics is on responsibility.  The duty of man is the driving force of all ethical conducts every human being must do in his/her life.  Education is always designed and done following the training for responsible behavior, and thus to produce ethical man.
            The first four commandments directly point to the duty of man in their religious and sacred worship of the true God.  The reason to oblige is not that God would destroy man if they do not do so, but the reason is simply because Yahweh is the true God.  The constitution of man is undeniably in conjunction with the commandment to worship Yahweh.  Humans are created in such a way that they can’t deny their urge to worship God.  Even though confused by the effect of the fall, humans still follow the tendency to seek an object of worship.  This is what John Calvin called as the “Seed of Religion.”  Throughout the history of the world, there is no civilization founded without the worship of some kind of deities.

            The second set of commandments focus the duty of man on their responsibility toward other people.  This too, wonderfully, is drawn toward the same reason as the first set of the commandments, that is because Yahweh is the true God.  The unifying foundation that Yahweh is the true God becomes the sole foundation why humans must behave responsibly toward one another.  Yahweh is the creator of all things.  He is the only rightful king to command all creation to follow his order.  It is thus only appropriate for humans to obey the command of the king of the world.

            To add to the reason that Yahweh is the only true God, Yahweh identifies himself as the one who brought Israel out of the land of Egypt – the land of slavery.  This is a very significant disclosure of Yahweh’s identity as the defender of the weak and as the just King of the world.  All ethical behaviors must follow the stream of God’s characters.  Since God is the defender of the weak, therefore man must live the free life never exploiting their freedom by oppressing their weaker fellows.  Egypt exploited their freedom in that they enslaved Israel.  Thus in their freedom, Israel is to worship only Yahweh the only rightful God.  In their freedom, Israel must never carve any image and bow down to it.  In their freedom, Israel must not misuse the name of God.  In their freedom, Israel must keep Sabbath.  In their freedom, Israel must honor their father and mother.  In their freedom, Israel must not murder.  In their freedom, Israel must not commit adultery.  In their freedom, Israel must not steal.  In their freedom, Israel must not bear false witness.  In their freedom Israel must not covet their neighbor’s possessions.  Now, freedom is inseparable from the command of God to be responsible.  A responsible person is a free person.  Freedom should never negate responsibility.  Instead, freedom enhances responsibility.  Responsibility does not stand alone, but it finds its reason in Yahweh the true God.  Responsibility cannot be founded upon earthly reasons.  For example, the responsibility to honor our parents cannot be founded upon the rights of the parents to receive honor.  Instead, it must be founded upon the character of God, who creates both the parents and the children.  It is only fitting for the original nature of man to honor others, especially their parents.  It is the duty of man to do so precisely because God, who is the creator and the liberator, commands it.

            Humans are created by God for his purpose.  The purpose as is set by God gives credence to our responsibility.  We only fulfill our duty when we fulfill our purpose.  We are created for God, therefore it is our duty to not bow down to the false gods.  We are created for the worship of the one true God who is invisible, thus we it is our duty to not attempt to worship to any image resembling anything.  We are created for holiness, so it is our duty to speak of the name of the Holy God properly.  We are created for communion with God, so it is our duty to stop working on Sabbath and rest with God in holy communion.  We are created for honor and dignity, thus it is our duty to honor others.  We are created for love and self control, therefore it is our duty not to murder.  We are created for fidelity, and thus it is our duty to be faithful.  We are created for total dependence on God, and thus it is our duty to be content and not steal.  We are created for truth, so it is our duty to be truthful.  We are created for purity, which makes it our duty to desire not what isn’t ours.  Freedom is given to Israel not to be abused, but to be utilized gratefully for good.  Ethical behavior is only proper as the result of freedom that is governed by heavenly responsibility.

            But our modern world as we know it today is attempting to redefine freedom.  They resort to what is now overused, which is famously known as the “Human Rights.”  Whenever modern man talks about freedom, their reference is always to human rights.  But the human rights they are talking about is detached from human responsibilities.  GK Chesterton brilliantly points out that “Most modern freedom is at root fear. It is not so much that we are too bold to endure rules; it is rather that we are too timid to endure responsibilities.  (What’s Wrong With the World, 1910[1]).  Chesterton is correct, that the kind of freedom being perpetuated in today’s modern world has its root in fear – the fear to bear responsibilities.  In our modern world, human rights become the foundation for the ethical man.  For example, the command that we ought not murder is being rested on the human right to live – and not on human responsibility to control oneself and to love others.  It is interesting that the reasoning of ethics has shifted from duty to right.  It is no longer interesting, but becoming sad when through the push to make human rights the most important foundation in the world to govern human ethical conduct has led humanity to adopt the selfish way of life.  Everybody now talks about my right, instead of my duty.  Slowly but sure, ethics is defined by each individual preference based on human rights, rather than on the interest of others as is translated in our duty toward others.  And so, “it is my right to bear arm” when combined with “it is my right to do whatever I want according to my human freedom” spells disaster.  It is a disaster because the ethical conduct is no more, and what remains is selfishness in the name of human rights.
            It must be understood that when we speak of human rights in relation to ethical conduct toward others, we actually need to speak it in a passive way.  The human right to live is one of the most basic human right.  But this is understood as passive.  Because life is something that is given to us by the owner of life.  It is not something that we take by force.  It is a gift.  And a gift, by definition, is passively received by the receiver.  God is the one that is active on that part, for he is the one actively giving it.  On the other hand, when we speak of responsibility we speak of it in an active way.  To say that it is our duty to not murder, would mean that we actively seek the well being of others.  It is our duty to keep other people alive.  Therefore when we speak of human life, the reason for keeping other people alive and well is not because others have the right to live – even though they do have – but more on our duty to seek the well being of others.  And we fulfill our duty because it is commanded by Yahweh, the only true God.  The golden rule as uttered by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 is in active mode: “do to others what you would have them to you. Ethics is not something that is passive.  A passive ethics is not enough.  Refraining from doing evil is not enough.  That is why when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he did not answer by quoting the “passive” command to “not do” this or that, but he referred to two active commandments: 1) to love God, and 2) to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-39).  In this modern world, unfortunately, the whole meaning of freedom has been twisted to rest on human rights and thus giving overemphasis on the right on each individual to do things following their heart desire.  Chesterton points out that “To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.  (A Short History of England, 1917[2]). Sadly, in this modern push for human rights as the basis of life, to have a right to do a thing is the norm of the day, regardless of whether the thing is done in a righteous way or not.  The eyes of modern man focus only on freedom, and not on responsibility.  We often defend ourselves in the name of our constitutional right, but never defend others on behalf of our constitutional duty.  Our modern world has become a selfish world.
            True freedom is therefore not that we are free to do a thing.  But true freedom means that we are free to do the right thing as is commanded by Yahweh the true God to be our duty.  When Egypt enslaved Israel, Israel did not have the freedom to do the right thing as commanded by Yahweh to be their duty.  Yahweh commanded Israel to worship him, but Egypt hindered them from doing so.  Because their true freedom was hampered and thus the fulfillment of their responsibility was hindered, Yahweh had to act.  His liberating Israel from the bondage of slavery is meant for Israel to have the true freedom to do what is right according to the command of God.  But our world today defines freedom to mean that we are free to do anything we desire.  Such freedom is false freedom.  Freedom to harm others is no freedom.  It only seems free, but it actually is a bondage in the slavery of sin.  Such false freedom can only be implemented at the expense of the sacred duty of man.  Thus in the process of choosing their path, humans weigh what is good and what is bad.  Unfortunately, the modern civilization opts for the false freedom, because of their fear to bear responsibilities, and thus abandon responsibility.  As they proceed to walk in the path of false freedom, not only that human responsibility is abandoned, “human rights” is then also exploited to feed on their self centeredness.  So this is the structure of modern ethics: 1) human responsibility is put in prison, 2) the one that commands responsibility is considered dead or doesn’t exist, 3) human basic rights is exploited, 4) self desire is catapulted as king, and 5) submit oneself under the bondage of sin.  Thus they return to slavery.
            If we are truly free, then we will abide to our sacred duty as humans.  The Ten Commandments are given to the people who were just set free from the bondage of slavery.  The Ten Commandments are the framework of our true freedom.  It can only be found in the identity of Yahweh the true God.  Only by identifying ourselves with Yahweh through our obedience to the commandments, we may understand true freedom and thus live as free human being.  Amen.
- Business of Christian Education LXXXIV -

[1] Christian History Magazine-Issue 75: G.K. Chesterton: Prolific Writer & Apologist (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2002).
[2] Christian History Magazine-Issue 75: G.K. Chesterton: Prolific Writer & Apologist (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2002).

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