You shall not kill – unless you’re in a war, someone is attacking your spouse or children or you’ve got some other good reason. You shall not steal – unless you are starving and your neighbor, with more than enough food, refuses to share. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – unless it’s necessary to prevent unjust harm to yourself or other innocent people. Unless I misread our situation, this is how folks really understand the Commandments.
Even though most Christians claim that God in some manner gave these rules to us, we mold and remold them until they fit into what we think is sensible.
What do we honestly think the Commandments are? What practical role do they play in our lives?
Some folks see the commandments as God’s posted warning: Do this thing and I’ll punish you in this life and the next. Others see the commandments as a list of behaviors God dislikes but stands ready to forgive without penalty if we show fitting remorse.
Many view the commandments as fine ideas if you’re religious; however, since they were generated by ancient peoples and situations, they’re not realistic for our lives.
Finally, there are those who view the commandments as essential behaviors, learned under the Spirit’s guidance, that are necessary if humanity is to arrive at the world God promises. Each failure to pursue them delays that world and prolongs the injustice and suffering that we all endure.
Which view of the commandments to adopt? The best of Catholic Tradition uses the fourth.