Many of us remember watching The Wizard of Oz at one point or another. Who could forget the first time Dorothy and her travelling companions stand before the Wizard. Bursts of fire. A huge intimidating head. It was enough to send the Cowardly Lion head first through a pane of stained glass. There is a similar scene in the book of Exodus when the Israelites first arrive at Mount Sinai. On their third day at the mountain, “there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” [Exodus 19:16]. The voice of the Lord is described as being like thunder as he spoke the 10 Commandments to the Israelites. It was so intimidating that the Israelites requested that from then on Moses speak to God and tell them what God said. They preferred that arrangement to personally hearing the voice of thunder again [Exodus 20:19].
The description of this scene has led many to a false understanding of the Laws given at Mount Sinai. Because of the intimidating nature of God’s presence, many people view the 10 Commandments as a terrifying weapon God uses to attack us. But we ought to be clear when talking about the Law. The problem is not the Law, the problem is sin. The Law always accuses us in our sin, but not because the Law is bad. Quite the opposite – the Law accuses us because it is good. It is, in fact, a reflection of the perfect people God created us to be. Before sin corrupted creation, God had set Adam and Eve to live in perfect harmony with him, with each other, and with the world around them. The Law gives us God’s own summary of how this would look.
The problem is not the Law; the problem is our inability to keep it. Sin is the problem that Jesus came to solve. His death on the cross covers our inability to keep the Law. His death on the cross frees us from the condemnation of the Law, but doesn’t eliminate the Law. The Law can’t be eliminated because it is a description of the right relationship between God and his creatures. As long as there are creatures, there will be a Law that describes how God created them to exist. Think of the Law like a ballpoint pen. A pen works best when the cap is off. If you attempt to draw on a piece of paper with the pen cap on, you will be able to make some marks, maybe even legible marks that another person could read. But the pen will work best if you use it how it was designed to work. So the Law for the pen is “Thou shalt not write with the pen cap on.” In that commandment you have the description of how the pen will work best. So also the 10 Commandments – in them God has told us how we work best, how humanity works best, and how families and relationships work best.
Over the next few months we will be exploring how to properly view and use the gift of God’s Law as we set about trying to be the creatures he intended us to be. The first step in this process is to stop looking at the Law as if it is a random compilation of rules cobbled together by the Almighty so that he would have something to threaten us with, punish us for, or even save us from. God did not give the Law to suck the fun out of life, but to show us how life works best. But we must also recognize the Law for what it is and, remembering the depths of our sin, not attempt to use it to earn salvation. That would be like trying to use a pen as a steak knife instead of a writing utensil; it simply will not work. For salvation we rely on the saving work of Jesus. However, the fact that we cannot earn salvation through the Law does not make the Law useless for God’s children any more than the fact that a pen won’t cut sirloin makes it useless. It simply must be used in the time and place it was intended. The same is true of God’s Law. If we want to live the life we were created for, even this side of heaven, the Word of God given on Mount Sinai is a good place to start.
Next month, we will consider how trying to live according to God’s Law as the creatures he created us to be ultimately drives us to our knees in repentance and back to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation.