Before we get into the actual texts of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, it might be helpful to both of us, and to those who are reading and participating in this conversation with us, to know where each of us stands regarding the Bible.
For me the Bible is a human document. It is not so much God’s revelation to humanity, as humanity’s seeking out of God and godliness. Because the Bible is a human document it reflects the best and the worst of what we are capable. When it reflects the best, I believe the author is in touch with God and revealing godliness by speaking in what I call the Voice of Love. When it reflects the worst, I believe the author is out of touch with God, and speaking to the needs of ego in what I call the Voice of Fear. When reading the Bible we must identify which Voice we are hearing. When we hear the Voice of Love we should do our best to follow its advice. When we hear the Voice of Fear we should own that shadow side of our personality but avoid what the Bible commands in that Voice.
For example, when the Bible says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18); or “Love the stranger” (Leviticus 19:34) it is speaking in the Voice of Love, and we would be wise to heed its wisdom. When the very same Bible commands us to massacre every man, woman, child, and cow of Amalek (1 Samuel 15:1-2), however, it is speaking in the Voice of Fear, and we must recognize our human capacity for genocide even as we renounce all acts of genocide.
Saying this raises the question, “What is God?” I imagine we will deal with that when we get to the first of the Ten Commandments, but suffice it to say, that I believe God is Reality. God is the One Thing from which and in which all things arise and fall. In this I follow the apostle Paul who says that it is in God that we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). You are I and all things are manifestations of the One Thing I call God.
Given this notion of God, I understand God’s commands as analogous to an ocean’s current, or the grain of wood. If you wish to be in harmony with the ocean you move with the current. If you wish to cut wood well, you cut with the grain. You can move against the current and cut against the grain, but in the end this will prove ineffective.
The Voice of Love reveals the grain of God or the current of godliness. If you want to live well, if you want to live in harmony with Life and the One Who manifests it, this is the way to live. What are the consequences for violating these commands? Needless suffering, confusion, pain, anger, greed, ignorance, and violence both to yourself and the world as a whole.
So rather than read these commandments as the barkings of a Cosmic Drill Sergeant, I understand them as revelations: “You are capable of living without idols, lies, or covetousness; you are capable of honoring your parents and remembering the Sabbath.” The Ten Commandments are challenges to live in harmony with the current of godliness rather than demands of an aloof and commanding god.