This past weekend was the LDS General Conference. For those who haven’t watched it before, it’s basically a huge, inspirational gathering of Mormon church leaders, talking about doctrine and teaching about Christ. It’s awesome.
One of my favorite talks was by Elder Dallin H. Oaks. He basically talked about how we need to take a step back, reevaluate our priorities, and put God back as our first priority. It made me think about the 10 Commandments. These are the 10 most basic rules of morality – upon which all Christian and Jewish nations are founded, and are certainly included in Islam – and we as a nation, and the world in general, have basically thrown them into the wind. The popular thought is that the rules are nice, but they’re outdated, and we need an updated version. But do we? Take a look at them: (full text here)
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
It would help us all get along if we all worshiped the same god. But really, a “god” is whatever you put as the “absolute power” in your universe. How much of the world operates on the assumption that the all-powerful god in the world is money? Or sex? Or status? If we actually put our pursuit of excellence – of holiness, if you will – ahead of our obsession with being rich, noticed, and attractive, this society would have much lower crime rates, divorce rates, abuse, and stress levels. Let God be God.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image… Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
This goes right along with commandment number 1. I don’t personally believe there’s anything sacrilegious about sculpture – in my opinion, this just talks about realizing that anything you make is nothing compared with what God can make. It’s about humility: your accomplishments are good, but His are magnificent.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
My husband told me about a woman he taught on his mission in Chile. He asked her, “Rosa, what would you do if I shouted your name in anger every time I stub my toe or get cut off in traffic?” She was mortified. “Elder Unklesbay,” she asked, “why would you blame me for that?” “I wouldn’t. That’s why we shouldn’t blame God every time we need to yell something obscene.”
This commandment isn’t just about language; any time we do something in God’s name that He wouldn’t do, we pretend to put His seal of approval on it. Think how many wars have been fought “for God.” Why would God hurt His children?
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
How many people do you know who set aside one day each week to remember God? How much better would we be if we spent 1/7 of our week becoming more spiritually in tune? Worrying less about our jobs, our sports teams, and even (gasp!) our blogs to reach out to our neighbors and lift them up like Christ would? We could do a lot of good by slowing down, looking around ourselves, and giving Christlike service every 7 days. Who knows? It might even start to leak into the rest of the week.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
I’ll be honest – I think it’s hilarious that this commandment includes a promise of longer life. I’ve always thought that children who honor their parents have much better chances of surviving to adulthood. In all seriousness, though, imagine what your family would be like if every child respected their parents. That doesn’t mean always agreeing – but treating their parents with respect. I imagine that would also make it easier for parents to keep a respectful attitude toward their kids. And even growing into old age, your parents can teach you a lot. Show some respect.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
This – and this alone – would save a lot of marriages. Not all, I know – but if every man or woman went into a relationship with the thought, “I’m going to be completely faithful to this person, no matter what it takes,” a lot less relationships would fail, a lot less kids would be left confused by the wayside, and a lot less hearts would be broken.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
What if you felt secure enough in your neighborhood to park the car with the doors unlocked? How about with the doors unlocked and the key in the ignition? If you could leave your purse behind at a restaurant and then realize, “Oh, no. I’d better call the manager and ask for it back,” and know that everything would still be there?
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Lying, gossip, half-truths, and hurtful sarcasm have made us a pretty bitter society. Test yourself. How long can you go without saying something behind someone’s back? Something untrue? (Or sort-of true?) It’s hard! I think the hardest thing for me is being honest enough to think about what someone is asking me – really thinking about it – and giving them an answer I actually believe, instead of the first thing that comes into my head. But I’ve noticed the days I focus on really giving people the honest truth, I’m a lot more optimistic, hopeful, and confident in myself. Maybe something inside me can just tell that I’m the sort of person who can really be trusted that day.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife… nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
To “covet” is “to yearn to possess or have something.” The whole concept of jealousy doesn’t make a lot of sense. “Ooh! You have something shiny! I want it! Now I’m mad at you.” What? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (in a past conference) compared jealousy to “downing another quart of pickle juice every time anyone around you has a happy moment.” Why in the world do we get so upset when somebody else has the spotlight? Elder Holland also points out that sometimes we get mad at God for giving somebody else a better job, body, family – or whatever it is – than we have. And God might very well respond: “Why should you be jealous because I choose to be kind?”
The problem with jealousy is that, if you’re really doing the jealous thing right, you’ll never be happy until you get x. and then once you get x, you’ll realize that somebody else has x and y. And then you’ll aim for y, refusing to be happy until you’ve got both, and then realize that true happiness is only found with x, y, and z all together. After a while, you’ve got as many letters as a Scrabble board, and you still aren’t happy, because there’s more to be had. Happiness is for now, no matter what you have. If you can’t be happy being you, when are you going to be happy?
Some of these are still pretty well followed. But a lot of them – like honesty, fidelity to a spouse, clean language, and the Sabbath day – are pretty much ignored. And there’s really no reason to throw them out. A “modern” society can be just as modern without throwing out the idea of individual morality. And just because you won’t be punished by the law doesn’t mean you won’t regret downgrading your own character. From my own experience, the whole reason I ever survived Jr. High School was because while I was going through teen angst, confusion, and mockery, I was also trying to come closer to God. My personal character has grown stronger and happier because I trusted the Lord enough to take Him at His word and follow Him. And it worked! God hasn’t given us commandments because He wants to watch us run and jump at His command. He knows what makes human beings happy, and what causes them heartbreak. And, like a concerned doctor – or, more fittingly, a concerned Father – He tells us how to take care of ourselves. It’s up to us whether we listen or not. My challenge to you? Pick a commandment, take God (and Moses) at His word, and spend a week improving it. I’ll be working to get rid of jealousy. Let me know how yours goes, too! ♦