Lately, I’ve been thinking about the 10 Commandments, and it strikes me that the hardest one to accept is the one about honoring one’s parents. This isn’t to malign my parents or yours, but merely to suggest that with a little sincere effort and a normal amount of will power, the other nine aren’t really that difficult to abide by.
So, while I understand that God isn’t saying we have to love or even like our parents, I still think it’s an unreasonable demand. Why should Stalin’s kids or Pol Pot’s kids or the offspring of any other mass murderer respect them? And what about the children of child abusers, rapists and serial killers? But God doesn’t offer any dispensations. He just insists that we honor our parents, no matter how evil and degenerate they are, even if they, themselves, ignore all the Commandments.
|Charlton Heston as Moses|
To me, this would suggest that God was having an off-day when He cobbled those tablets together, but God doesn’t have off-days. That’s why He’s God, and we’re not. God knows I have plenty of off-days, and, for all I know, you have off-months and even off-years.
But I think that I may have figured out the problem, and the problem is the number 10.
Years ago, when I was a film critic, come January, tradition demanded that I come up with a list of the past year’s 10 best movies. But “best” conveys some degree of excellence, and, quite honestly, there were some decades that couldn’t deliver the goods, let alone a single year. But, tradition was nothing to sniff at, so I’d come up with a list of the 10 Best that would generally break down to two or three moderately entertaining movies, a few that didn’t make your teeth ache, one or two that at least kept you awake to the end, and, inevitably, a couple that should have been tried at the World Court for crimes against humanity.
Anyway, that’s what I think happened with God when He sat down to chisel out the 10 Commandments. He started out with several sure winners. You can never go wrong banning murder, adultery, stealing and bearing false witness. Nobody, after all, likes a murdering, philandering, lying thief, although there are some who will cut the guy some slack so long as he’s a liberal politician.
Then, keeping His eye on the ball, He announced himself as the One and Only God, made sure that nobody used His name as an obscenity and drove the point home that He was boss by making sure that His day of rest would be everybody’s day of rest. Well, when it comes to taking days off, you never have to twist anyone’s arm and make him say “Uncle!”
But by now, there’s no getting around the fact that he was losing a little off his fastball. He still had two Commandments to go. Even He knew that “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s” was a tad wordy. God knew He could have just written “Thou shall not covet” and be done with it, but He had space to fill.
But that still left one Commandment to go, and His mind was a blank. He laid down, He got up, He paced, He sharpened pencils, He doodled pictures of giraffes. After hours of racking His brain, all He had to show for it were crumpled up wads of paper in and around the heavenly wastepaper basket. Some of the rejects involved not honking your horn when driving through tunnels, not whining when you miss a putt, not hogging all the best appetizers at cocktail parties and the one that made even God chuckle when he jotted it down: Never speak ill of an ex-spouse or a former business partner.
Finally, it was getting late and there was still that empty space on the tablet, and, so, like every writer who has ever lived, God came up with something. It wasn’t perfect, God knew, but He saw to it that it had the right cadence, and that counts for a lot. He came up with “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”
In the legal small print of the 10 Commandments, by the way, it is written that anyone who quibbles with any of the copyrighted material therein will find that his days upon the land will be extra long because he will not be coveted by manservant nor maidservant, and only occasionally by ox or by ass. In addition, he will be short of stature and bald of hair and be plagued, not with locusts and frogs, but by rheumatoid arthritis and a persistently aching back.