By Bill Webb
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a couple of high-profile cases involving the display of the Ten Commandments on public property. The Court's ruling on the matter may be months away. But Christians should be careful about what they pray and lobby for.
The sentiment to display the Decalogue in government buildings and on tax-maintained grounds is driven in large measure by what many believe is the secularization of American society in general and government in particular. Like the psalmist, people of faith often are tempted to cry out, "Where is God...?"
But if the High Court rules in favor of public displays of the Ten Commandments, it will do so because it accepts arguments that displays are not religious in nature but secular in their purpose. The commandments given by God as sacred instructions to His people must be reduced to secular admonitions to pass Supreme Court muster for display on public property or in government buildings.
The Bible contains an account of two brothers who lived long before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses. Esau and Jacob -- like many brothers -- were as different as night and day. Jacob, the younger of the two, was conniving, a trait he apparently learned from his mother. Jacob came upon his brother, Esau, when Esau was hungry and offered him a pot of soup in exchange for the birthright reserved for the firstborn -- a cherished family provision in those days.
One translation of the Bible records that Esau sold his birthright for "a mess of pottage." He surrendered something of tremendous value and family pride for what today would be the equivalent of a fast-food, drive-through meal. He denigrated in value what should have been significant to him.
Christians must avoid the temptation to be Esau-like in their fervor for public displays of the Ten Commandments.
To push as hard as some Christians are pushing for the legalization of these public displays of the Ten Commandments -- especially if their sacred nature is watered down -- puts such advocates in a position of violating some of the commandments themselves.
If the Ten Commandments must be stripped of their spiritual or religious meaning, one could argue that we are left with monuments that literally are mere graven images. The second commandment speaks to that: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image." Have some people placed the monuments themselves on pedestals?
If -- to satisfy the Supreme Court in this matter -- the very words of God given to His people must be regarded as secular and nothing more, then to place such a display might make a person guilty of violating the third commandment: "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." This commandment is violated if the very name of God used in it must be regarded as less than holy to be displayed.
Is this how Christians wish to treat the things of God? Surely Christendom would not advocate compromising the Word of God -- in this case the very words of God -- to satisfy its own frustration with the state of society.
Does this mean that Christians should push for government-sponsored displays of the Ten Commandments as God-given commands? Not at all. The government is not the church, and the church must never allow government to push its message. Neither must government stand in the way of the church pursuing God's purposes.
God gave these words and many more to His people and said, "Go...." (Matthew 28:19-20) Christians would do well to give more time and energy to that command.
I know of no Christian who does not believe the Ten Commandments. Nor have I ever met anyone who has lived up to all of them. But few among us would want to water down God's commands. The Bible admonishes us to write God's Word in our hearts and wear it for all to see in our speech and actions. Surely that's a campaign we all can get behind.