What if there were an app for that? [see description] It would be tempting. Think of it: no more nagging; no more hearing about how you’re wrong or insensitive or, whatever.
But, you realize what you’ve done. You’ve turned him or her into an appliance.
Every personal relationship has finality. Think of someone you know well. There are things you like about them, things that make you feel good when you’re with them. But there’s also that stuff that gets under your skin—the way they chew their food or sing too loud. And sometimes they disagree with you. They say things like, “No, you’re wrong,” or, “You shouldn’t do that.” They have finality. You cannot simply modify a person. If you want to go on relating to them as a person, and not as an appliance, you must accept that. You must defer, give in, and yield to their finality.
You’ve probably heard someone say, in a slightly offended tone of voice,
“How can anyone think their religion is the only way?”
When it comes to religion, our post-modern sensibility likes to keep options open. We want a buffet. We’ll take what we like from many religions. We don’t want to be stuck with just one. How boring. Now, this makes perfect sense if you’re talking about religion as a list: do this, don’t do that; believe this, don’t believe that. If you’ve ever made a to-do list, or a list of rules, you know how quickly they become outdated and irrelevant. Lists are always changing. No list has finality.
The Ten Commandments are not, in the first place, a list of do’s and don’ts. They are personal. They express what God loves and what God hates, the “real” him. If we ever want to relate to this God personally, which is the essence of Christianity, we must yield to his finality. He is not our cosmic, Wi-Fi-controlled coffee pot. We can’t modify him to suit our whims. He is personal—three unique, inter-relating Divine Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
What does the Father love? He loves his Son—and by adoption through the Spirit—his sons and daughters. He is jealous for them. He will protect his house. This is what the 10 Commandments are about. They are like layers of Under Armour God stitched into the amazingly breathable microfiber of his creation.
The 10 Commandments are protection against what God hates; protection for what God loves.
God loves your neighbor
God wants to protect your neighbor and everything that helps and serves your neighbor: his reputation, his property and material blessings, his sexual purity, his marriage, his life. God is so devoted to protecting marriages and the future of every human life, he put an extra layer of armor around two especially honored neighbors: your father and mother.
God loves you
Above all, God wants to protect his relationship with you. In the first three commands, he’s put a layer of armor around your faith in him, your conversations with him through prayer, and time set aside to hear him speak to you. And, in those last commandments—the ones about coveting—there he links his love for you and your neighbor. In these he’s protecting your neighbor’s house and protecting your contentment.
What God hates
On the flip side, God’s commands protect against what he hates: greed and lust, lies and slander, sexual immorality, theft, and murder, disrespect of parents and other authorities. Above all, he hates idols—false gods, anything that sucks away your trust, time, and attention for him.
If you want a relationship with the Father of Jesus, you must yield to His finality.
If not, how could he ever disagree with you? How could he ever confront you when you’re wrong? He couldn’t, because you wouldn’t have the God of Jesus anymore. You’d be worshiping a cosmic coffee pot.
Wait a minute. Isn’t there give and take in every relationship? You keep saying I must accept and yield to God’s finality, but what about my finality? I’m a person too, am I not? Or am I just an appliance? Does God yield to my finality?
He knows there are a couple of facts about us that we do not have the ability to change.
First, he knows we are sinners. He knows we are still invested in the self-serving, idol factory that’s become a cottage industry in every human heart. He knows we do not have the strength or wisdom to protect his house.
Made for Relationship
Second, he knows he made us for a relationship with him. No matter how deep we sink in sin, our need to relate to him will never go away. These finalities, God accepts. Therefore, God the Father yielded to this finality by sending His Son to become a human being. Jesus yielded to this finality by offering up his life for ours. God the Holy Spirit yields to this finality by doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves: down-size the idol factory for closure while bringing us to fear, love, and trust in God alone.
God’s Law protects us like a curb, mirror, and map.
One winter, while driving to work, I hit a patch of ice. Panic. The steering wheel isn’t doing its job anymore. I turn right, but the car just keeps going wrong, toward the concrete embankment. I’m going to crash into this wall. Shards of broken glass will spray over me. And it’s happening in three, two, one … bounce. The curb! Praise the Lord for the curb. There might be moments of out-of-control chaos in your heart and in the world, but the Law—incorporated and still open for business in everyone’s heart—keeps us from totaling it.
When I was in seminary, one of the professors had us re-learn the words of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. I had been working on learning the words that go with the 8th Command, telling me to defend my neighbor, “speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way.” Later that day I got to talking with some other students. There was this other professor we loved to mock. There I was, imitating and defaming him, getting some good laughs, and it hits me like an embankment, defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest possible way. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing a flaming red, puss-filled zit right on my pointy nose. God’s Law protects us like a mirror: Think S.O.S. – Shows Our Sin.
There’s an app for that
When we’ve seen our sin and the Law has turned us into broken sinners, we’re ready again to hear the Gospel: God accepts our finality and does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. In Jesus, he bears the Law’s burden of love. Knowing this, we can return to the road with the Law as our guide. With the Holy Spirit as designer, this Mobile App can guide us into true Wisdom, no Wi-Fi needed.
Most of this is re-stating what Martin Luther said about The 10 Commandments in the Large Catechism.
For understanding God’s Law as God’s personal values, the book Getting to Know Jesus by Paul Schult was helpful.
For the concept of “finality” in all personal relationships, this sermon by Tim Keller on Hebrews 1 was helpful.
There is a real app called Mood Swing. It’s not for manipulating others’ emotions, but for expressing the “real you” on social media, e.g., “I feel dubious.” The app above is fake, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in development.