Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Law of Moses

The Law is noble and serious. That's what deans and faculty like to remind you about all the time.

In that spirit, I offer something a little more serious.

For those of you whose ethos is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, I hope you might find the following as interesting and insightful as I did.

With sound reason the last commandment of the ten forbids envy or coveting. All my labor to keep the others will be undone if beneath my observance I maintain a hidden longing to break them and to be like those who ignore them. There is a sense in which all temptation begins with coveting. I want what another has of what I imagine that I could have. Aloud I may call it worthless, but secretly I want it. Then my conscience reproves me. If I listen and turn my attention away and back to my true task, all will be well. But what if I permit my attention to remain fastened on the forbidden thing? Conscience continues to speak and I continue to crave. In such a condition I begin to doubt my own sincerity. I am led to wonder about the reality of my commitments. Then I wonder about the reality of other people's commitments. Are the voices right that call the religious mere hypocrites?

My hesitations increase my perplexity. No longer pressing forward toward the goal, I allow myself to rehearse over and over again the difficulties of my indecision. I may still resist complete abandonment of my quest; I do not wish to succumb to temptation. But my motive is different. No longer do I refuse temptation because my interest is directed to something else, because I am actively seeking another goal. My mind is now turned inward on itself.

I refuse now self-consciously out of a kind of pride. I refuse because I think myself "above" such a thing. Like the fox who calls the grapes he cannot reach sour, I condemn what tempts me and those whose behavior fascinates me. I find that I covet less when I assume the judgment seat. The craving is appeased not by the pleasure of satisfaction but by the pleasure of condemnation. I am not holy, I admit, but surely I am holier than they.

As I am holier, I ought to be happier. Why then are they so happy while I am not? After all, I am (or was) a pilgrim seeking the holy land while they are scoffers and sinners. Why should their lot be better than mine? They appear quite free from inner turmoil. Finally I allow my mind free rein: having forgotten to keep it fixed on my goal, I let it run headlong into a clash of envy and pride. The one fights the other, but both keep me from my task.

Confusion, resentment, and discouragement transform my mind into a heavy longing for rest. Brought to this point by the burdens of a commitment, I seek only to be rid of it. The words of the world ring in my ears: "If it feels good, do it." "Do your own thing." "Why fight it?" "You deserve everything you can get." "All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me." (Matthew 4:9.) But before I lay down and turn away, another voice speaks. "Wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me." (Micah 6:3.)

The voice offers no arguments and no defense. It challenges me to speak; it tells me to present my case. As I try to formulate a complaint, the incoherent monologue of my rambling consciousness ceases. The muddled and indulgent thoughts are burned away like morning mist. The pleasure of accusation and the pride of superiority have vanished. The unrelenting envy is gone. My mind is clear.

The Holy One waits, and the silence seems to repeat his question. Then I understand that I have no answer to give. The silence speaks for me too. All the pain, indignation, and perplexity have lost their substance. It is not that I fear to speak them or that I seek to hide them. They no longer exist. My inner conflict is over, and peace remains. No matter what the words, I see now that all my cries were but for him, and he is here. There is no question beyond his question and no answer beyond his presence. (Rasmussen, 1985. The Lord's Question, p. 69-71)

1 comment:

Brian Holdaway said...

Truly profound. Hurrah for the Decalogue!