Photo by  Ivana Cajina  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

It's Louder Than You Think

by Eric Elkin

Then God spoke all these words . . .
— Exodus 20:1

One summer I joined a group of campers sleeping out under the stars. As the campers dropped off to sleep, it gave the two counselors and I an opportunity for a conversation. The kind of conversation staff yearns for at the end of summer, the chance to talk like adults.

I cannot remember how we got on the subject, but we ended up talking about the ten commandments. Something about the stars, the silence of the woods and minds yearning to understand made it a sacred experience, one that has remained with me all these years.

I used an approaching hurricane to talk about “you shall not steal.” “Let’s say you own a lumber store,” I remember saying. You know a hurricane is approaching and you overstock on plywood. As the storm nears the shore, your store is the only one left with a supply of plywood. If you double the price of the plywood because of limited supply and increased demand, you’re stealing. According to our understanding of the commandment, you are using your neighbor’s misfortune for personal gain.

The counselors, who were both majoring in economics, argued it was a simple case of supply and demand. They were entirely within their right to charge what they determined to be the price based on the context. I argued, you already established what you needed to make for a profit. A radical increase was not only taking advantage of our neighbor; it was not helping them improve or protect their possessions.

We have a twisted understanding of the ten commandments in our culture. One could argue, we have turned them into an object to be worshipped. Rarely do we wrestle with the complexity of interpretation, choosing instead, to focus on the simplicity of the words. The truth is the power of the laws are not the laws, but the voice of the one who gave them.

The Ten Commandments were meant to form the people into a holy community. A community which not only explored what it means to love and worship God but how that love might guide them to live in peace with their neighbors. God spoke these words so we might be a particular kind of people. People who did not feast on one another’s weaknesses, but helped each other become strong. We need sacred time to listen to this voice, which still speaks so that we might live in a more just society.

Click to read: Exodus 20: 1-17

Reflection Questions:

  • When have you had a sacred experience of talking with another about faith?
  • What did you learn from the conversation?
  • Do you yearn for that kind of conversation now?
  • How do you understand the Ten Commandments?

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