Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Freedom of Restraint

“Many of us are rediscovering the truth of Edmund Burke’s dictum that many of the restraints upon us, and not merely our liberties, should be reckoned among our rights and the grounds of our freedom. Pursuing unguarded liberty with things puts us in very real danger of having those things “take liberties” with us (1 Corinthians 6:12). The loss of natural limitations often doesn’t leave us better off, and many struggle to re-establish these broken barriers in the far less certain form of sanity-restoring disciplines.”—Alistair Roberts

Law of Sanctuary, Law of Society --by Peter J. Leithart   

The Ten Words (Exodus 20) are organized in two sets of five commandments, one pertaining to our relationship to God and the other our relationships with one another. James Jordan has argued that the two sets of five run in parallel. The five words about worship match the five words about social relations.

The first commandment forbids idolatry: “You shall have no other gods before Me,” Yahweh says. Israel is to give honor and glory only to Him. Corresponding to that, the sixth commandment that prohibits murder requires that we honor the image of God in human beings (cf. Genesis 9). A community that honors the one God above all gods is a people that honors His image, and vice versa.

Yahweh says that worship with images provokes Him to “jealousy,” a marital term, and a term that links the second commandment with the seventh’s prohibition of adultery. A church that refuses to worship God through images is liturgically chaste, and is being formed in worship into a community marked by sexual and marital faithfulness.

God tells Israel not to bear His name lightly. They have been marked by the name of Yahweh; they are His people and His property, and are not to use God’s property in ways that displease Him. And the structure of the Ten Words suggest there is a link between bearing the name of God and protecting our neighbor’s property: Bearing God’s name lightly is a form of theft, and a people who does not steal from God is a people that honors the “sacred” boundaries of property and ownership. When we refuse to steal what God has sealed with His name, we are learning to to seize what our neighbor has sealed with his name.

God demands that Israel keep the Sabbath day holy, inviolable, a day of solemn assembly for witness and praise. Worship is truth-telling about God, witnessing to His mighty works and His faithful character. In this way, the Sabbath command matches the ninth word that prohibits perjury: A people who keeps Sabbath is a truth-telling people. Sabbath-keeping also includes giving rest, breaking yokes, releasing from burdens (cf. Isaiah 58), and that too connects with the ninth word: Keeping Sabbath means not binding our neighbor with lies and slander.

It has long been said that the command to honor father and mother has a broader application, requiring respect and honor to all human authorities. The link between the fifth word and tenth seems to be this: As we honor human authorities, so we also respect our neighbor’s authority over his house, wife, family, property. Covetousness is a desire to damage our neighbor’s honor.

This can be filled out in all sorts of ways, but my main point is that the law of the sanctuary is parallel to the law of society and, more strongly, that the law of the sanctuary determines the law of society. What we do in the sacred space of the liturgy forms what is done in the profane space outside. The liturgical music we play before God is repeated in a different key in social life.

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