Most of us are not too keen on rules. Something in us fears that law will limit our liberty and therefore we will be less happy. The underlying fear is that we will be more likely to be happy when we can do whatever we want whenever we want.
So when today’s first reading focusses on the importance of the law of the Lord, it can be difficult for us to see this as an inspiration and a gift. Imagine Moses coming down the mountain carrying the Ten Commandments and giving them to the people saying:
“This day the LORD, your God, commands you to observe these statutes and decrees. Be careful, then, to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul.”
What do you think the reaction of the people was to Moses’ announcement? Perhaps ‘No Moses, we don’t want rules, we want to be free’?
I don’t think so.
I imagine these Old Testament people being delighted to receive these commandments from God. Here’s my reasoning.
Before this moment the people had been led by Moses from captivity in Egypt into the desert on their journey to the promised land. For the first part of the journey they were wanderers, tossed about by every opinion about direction with changing moods, fickle motivations and shifting goals.
When Moses came down the mountain with the Ten Commandments I imagine the people rejoicing because now God had given them a practical key to human life with specific goals for life in community and relationships. Now they knew how to live. It doesn’t mean that they suddenly found life easy, but at least now they direction and destiny. As Frederich Nietzsche said: “They who have a why to live can bear almost any how”.
It is significant that children asked to imagine that they are stranded on a desert island will pretty quickly come up with laws for their island life that are very similar to the Ten Commandments.
Perhaps a helpful analogy is the rules of the road. While at times we might find speed limits and red lights a bit of a hassle, we know that if it weren’t for clear and enforced road rules it would not be safe to leave our homes.
In the same way, the Law of the Lord is a gift, something like a drivers manual for humans written by God who is our designer and our manufacturer.
The more we strive together to live the letter and the spirit of this divine law, the more we will be living in harmony with our design and destiny and the happier we will be.
If you don’t believe me, try it.
Set one week to live fully both the letter and the spirit of every one of the Ten Commandments, and at the week progresses keep asking yourself: am I happier?
You might be surprised at the result.