“Becoming a Living Monument to the Ten Commandments” by Vicki Cole
[Originally published 2009 on website First Lessons in Christian Science]
As I write this, a certain 5,300 pound granite monument has been in the news. From what I could tell in the many photos and videos of the monument, it was very beautiful. It had engraved on it a precious message: the Ten Commandments. I empathized with all the people who gathered to protest the removal of this monument from the Alabama Judicial Building where it had been on display. In spite of their efforts at non-violent civil protest and prayer, the protesters could only watch helplessly as the monument was removed by order of a federal court.
We should not be discouraged one way or the other. After all, there are more enduring and practical ways to honor and spread abroad the word of God found in the Ten Commandments, without breaching that extremely important wall of separation between church and state.
Did not Jesus tell us, “If ye love me, keep my commandments”? (John 14:15) Most of us would agree that Jesus is telling us to keep these commandments in our hearts and minds and to obey them. This is what is needed.
I am reminded of a moment in the Old Testament where a fellow tried to help God by steadying the ark that contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments (See II Samuel 6:6-7 or I Chronicles 13:9-10). When Uzza noticed that the oxen carrying the ark of the covenant was stumbling, he decided to put forth his own hand to stop the ark from falling, rather than trusting God to protect the ark in His way. It seems this lack of trust was not a small matter, for Uzza instantly died beside the ark.
To me, one meaning of that story of Uzza might be that the revelation of Truth to the world is being unfolded and protected in God’s own way. It always has been. Our job is to be obedient to that revelation, to live it, and share it with others who are ready for the message. But we need to act with humility under God’s direction, rather than pushing forward willfully on tasks that have not been given to us. Sometimes God’s mission for us will include steadfast obedience and action in the face of opposition. But merely being stubborn, or trying to act on God’s behalf, if we don’t think He will be fast enough, or wise enough, to do what is right at the right time, as Uzza seems to have done, is not usually the best route. How would we know the difference? Through daily prayer and humble communion with our Father-Mother God. Through understanding God as Principle, and how He governs all creation.
The events in Alabama, for all we know, may have helped to bring into focus the need to analyze what the Ten Commandments mean to all of us. Just because the folks failed to persuade the courts to keep the granite monument in the public display area, doesn’t mean that the hand of God was not there steadying the ark in His own way! Perhaps it is time for us to consider that it is up to each individual to be a monument to the Ten Commandments. One synonym of the term “monument” is “exemplar.” An exemplar is a person or thing regarded as worthy of imitation, a model, or pattern. To me, a person making his or her life a living monument to the Ten Commandments would be far more persuasive than a piece of stone.
When you think of it, wouldn’t paying homage to a granite monument — even though it is carved with the Word of God — be disobedient to the Second Commandment? That Commandment tells us not to make any graven image. God is be worshipped in spirit as Spirit. He does not need us to make carvings and statues to make His presence and power known. God is not in these things. God is infinite Spirit and Mind, as Christian Science teaches. He is not localized in a thing, a building, a ritual, or an engraving of His message.
This web site is devoted to the “first lessons” that are taught to young or beginning students of Christian Science: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Lord’s Prayer. I am posting essays and lessons on each of the Commandments and Beatitudes, as I get the time. These essays have many ideas for those who wish to “carve” their own “Living Monument” to the Ten Commandments. Below, I have summarized themes that are included elsewhere on this web site, or in my book on the Ten Commandments.
Bear in mind that I’m not sharing these ideas from a pedestal of personal perfection, but from my own “prodigal daughter” experience as a young woman. Even though I was taught these lessons in Sunday School as a child, I’ve had to learn the hard way the value of obedience to these laws of God. Please accept these lessons as a gift. They are based on the Bible and Christian Science, as taught by Mary Baker Eddy, the author of Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. We can ponder these ideas together, and then put them on “public display.” We can let our Living Monuments inspire others who may pass our way.
FIRST COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Do others see that you put God first in your life? Do you truly know and behave as if God is the only power, supreme over all beliefs in the power of evil, sin, hate, or materiality? Do you recognize that God is the only Mind — the true source of wisdom or intelligence, or do you put your trust in your personal brain and abilities? Do you give God the credit for your talents, your health, your life? Anytime we believe there is a power or intelligence or life or truth or substance in anything besides God, who is infinite divine Mind and Spirit, then we are having “other gods.”
Are you fearful of other people or situations? Then you are giving those people and situations more power than ever-present divine Love. Are you giving in to physical and mental addictions? Then you are letting another god, or power, take control. Recognize there is no pleasure in anything other than spiritual good, and that good is more powerful than evil.
To be a Living Monument to the First Commandment, we must refuse to give power to anything, and that means anything, that is not of God and His spiritual nature. We express this in a life devoted to spirituality, rather than materiality.
SECOND COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”
How often do you let a disturbing or sensational image from the television or a movie
mesmerize you long after you have watched the original scene? You are letting these
images created by the five physical senses engrave themselves upon your thinking. These engraven images then take on a hypnotic power to influence you, whether you realize it or not. This happens over and over again in our daily lives. Certain human events convey impressions that become more real and powerful to us than the sweet whisperings of God’s angel messages which would seek to purify us.
Whenever we allow the aggressive mental suggestions of the five physical senses, or what the Bible calls “the carnal mind,” to govern our thinking, we have disobeyed the Second Commandment by creating an idol to worship. We might worship a beautiful physique, or take offense at one not-so-beautiful; either way we are letting ourselves create idols to worship or fear.
Another way to break this Commandment is by letting religious icons or rituals stand in place of a more spiritual worship of God. We can become Living Monuments to the Second Commandment by taking the time to reevaluate what we need for our spiritual growth and our methods for worshipping God. In the Bible, Jesus summarizes it this way: “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
THIRD COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
This is not just a law against “swearing.” It is about hypocrisy — especially using God’s name in an attempt to hide what is otherwise a vain, empty, or fruitless commitment to the truth. We want our lives to be ones of integrity, honesty, sincerity. In my book on teaching the Ten Commandments to children, I offer an explanation of the Third Commandment for the very young, which I think will be meaningful to grown-ups, too:
“‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain’ means that we should not use God’s name as if it had magical powers, for good or bad, just by being spoken. For instance, it is wrong to call out the name of God if you are angry at something or someone. That is called ‘swearing’ or ‘cursing,’ and it not only dishonors God, it is also unloving and impolite to others. We do not use God’s name lightly or jokingly. We do not speak certain favorite words about Him over and over again, thinking that just saying the words will help us or heal us. Our goal is to have what we think, what we feel, what we say, and what we do, all flow from the same truth.” (First Lessons, Volume One: The Ten Commandments, pg. 23)
We can start carving our Living Monument to the Third Commandment by striving to speak of God only when we are ready to speak from our heart, and to appreciate the ideal of a life lived with integrity, helping and expecting others to live up to that ideal, as well as setting a good example ourselves.
FOURTH COMMANDMENT: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
Do you ever take time to get off the treadmill of your daily routine and activities, to refresh yourself? Do you seek quiet time alone or with your family to pray or simply think about God during the week? This Commandment is not just about going to church on a regular basis, although that is a fine commitment that provides the discipline we may need, to pause and hand our lives over to God. The “sabbath” is not a certain day on a calendar, but can be any time that we set aside time to pray to God, to listen to Him, or to render service to Him and our fellow man.
The spirit of this Commandment, it seems to me, requires a heart willing to do God’s work — to earn a sabbath rest — and then be willing to set aside that struggle, to find refuge in God’s kingdom: the consciousness of the presence of heaven on earth that constitutes true harmony and happiness.
To become a Living Monument to the Fourth Commandment means more than being a regular church-goer; it means being a regular God-goer. We must not leave Him out of our busy lives, but set aside as sacred (that’s what “holy” means) our special quiet moments of communion with our Father-Mother God. This can be done anywhere at any time. It does not require a special building or a set of physical rituals. You can take your church with you wherever you go. Mary Baker Eddy defines this kind of church as follows: “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” (S&H, pg. 583)
FIFTH COMMANDMENT: “Honour thy father and thy mother.”
This is the only commandment with a promise. The full version reads: “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” We are promised a long life. That is an interesting benefit, when you consider that the original Commandment was meant to warn families not to abandon their elderly parents in their old age, but to care for them. There was a habit of leaving the old and decrepit out in the wilderness to be eaten of the wild beasts. From this we learn that we are never too old to show respect to our parents. As children of any age, we must be grateful for all they do for us, or have done for us. It is true that some parents do not seem to deserve respect, but this Commandment at least should prod us to do the best we can to overlook their faults and be forgiving.
This Fifth Commandment is also one that can be seen as referring to God. It comes after the first four Commandments, which are about our relationship with God, and before the last five, which seem more to do with our relationship to our fellow man. In Christian Science, we are taught that God is our only real Father and Mother, the only Cause and Creator. It is to God, Spirit, that we owe our honor and respect. It is God whose commands we obey. It is to God we give thanks. That is not to say we use this as an excuse not to honor our earthly parents — we are expected to do both! A loving heart devoted to God will honor all creation.
So, to become a Living Monument to the Fifth Commandment, pay attention to how you treat and think about your parents; if you are a parent, work to deserve the honor and respect of your children; and give honor and gratitude to God, your true Maker, by obeying His commandments, seeking His guidance, and doing your duty by Him.
SIXTH COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not kill.”
This is such a simple command of only a few words, and yet it is still not fully interpreted or understood by mankind. The early Hebrews, who were first given this command by Moses, believed it only referred to their fellow Hebrews; that they were still permitted to kill their enemies, slay animals for food, clothes, and sacrifice, and to punish those who broke the law. But that was merely their interpretation. Over the years, we have seen unspeakable murders and crimes committed in the name of “religion,” and yet God tells us: “Thou shalt not kill.” A close look at history and customs will show that man has evolved for the better in spite of all the crime and wars that plague us. We know it is wrong to take another human’s life out of personal hate. But we still are searching for those final practical solutions to issues such as
capital punishment, abortion, embryonic and medical research using fetuses or animals,
killing animals for food and clothing, etc.
In the meantime, there is still much each individual can do to strengthen the law behind this Sixth Commandment. We learn from Jesus that there is a more spiritual essence to this law when he said: “Ye have heard it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” (Matthew 5:21-22) This tells us that being angry with another is just as wrong as actually killing them. That is because anger is a form of hate, and hate kills. It is especially harmful to the one who hates.
It is vitally important for us to work on our Living Monument to the Sixth Commandment. We do this by daily watching our thoughts to challenge every angry or hateful thought; to develop an attitude of love by expressing patience, kindness, humility, tolerance, mercy, and forgiveness. These Godlike qualities will destroy hate before it has a chance to destroy ourselves and others.
SEVENTH COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Usually when a person argues that the Ten Commandments are old-fashioned, out-of-date, or irrelevant, this is the Commandment they have in mind! Humans love to justify behavior they are not willing to change or discipline. But would God issue a command for His children that they would be unable to obey? A God who is Love would not. To me, this hints at the fact taught by Christian Science that man is the spiritual image and likeness of God. We are not mortals. We are not animals. We are pure, innocent, spiritual beings at one with our heavenly Parent.
This Commandment was meant as a protection to human families, as well as being a warning not to mix impurities into our naturally pure consciousness. Refraining from sex with someone not our marriage partner is one meaning of this law, but it also includes being faithful to God, as well. We should be true and faithful to our pure, spiritual nature. To do this we must try to maintain our innocence, to identify ourselves as God’s child, not as the offspring of mortals with animal instincts.
If we should slip and slide over this issue, we still have reason to commit to our purity once we realize the importance of this law. Our true identity forever remains pure, no matter what we, as humans, have done in the past. Our goal is to conform our present actions to this truth — “Go, and sin no more,” as Jesus once said. Otherwise, we will continue to suffer for our disobedience. We must not fool ourselves into thinking we can continue to commit adultery, with the self-justification that, in reality, we are spiritual and pure. That is hypocrisy and a poor foundation for our “monument.”
We can start building our Living Monument to the Seventh Commandment by supporting and loving all efforts to be morally clean and pure in thought, word, and action. Pay attention to the movies and television you watch, the music you listen to, the books and magazines you read. Are you polluting the atmosphere of your mind with mental poisons? Are you allowing your own children to watch entertainment too mature for their young minds to handle? These earthy images are toxic and may plant the seeds of adultery. Our children need protection. We all need to cherish and protect our innocence. Mary Baker Eddy writes: “Never breathe an immoral atmosphere, unless in the attempt to purify it.” (S&H p. 452)
EIGHTH COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not steal”
You may never have been tempted to steal anything, such as shoplifting at a store or
robbing a bank, but there are many activities you might never have considered to be forms of stealing. For instance, taking things secretly, or by trickery, or by bullying others, is a form of theft. Manipulating others to get what you want is stealing. If an action is right and just, then it should be done with openness and sincerity. If not, then at least know that you are disobeying the Eighth Commandment when you use less-than-honest measures to get your own way, or take what does not rightfully belong to you. Do you cheat on your taxes? That is stealing. Have you ever damaged a person’s reputation or good character by vicious or mindless gossip and innuendo? That is stealing. Have you broken this Commandment by stealing opportunities or positions that were meant for others? Have you ever broken in line in front of others who have been waiting? Stealing.
These actions may all sound petty, but to those who have learned that the Ten Commandments are universal laws that have consequences when broken, even in the smallest detail, they are all aspects of “stealing” from God, our “neighbors,” and ourselves.
To be a Living Monument to the Eighth Commandment, you must set an example for all to see, especially your children. Would children shoplift or steal, if they had never seen it done, or had parents who consistently upheld the standards indicated in the Ten Commandments? (Toddlers are exempted — they think everything is theirs for the taking!) Would children cheat at school — another form of stealing — if they realized that integrity is more important than the temporary success of a good grade? Have you ever called in sick to get a day off from work, even when you were perfectly healthy? Then why be surprised if your children pretend to be sick or tired in order to get out of school or chores?
Jesus explains why it is worthless to steal: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20) The spiritual truth behind this is that God has provided each of us with all we really need, even though we may be unaware of what we have. We have no reason to steal or manipulate people or situations, when we realize that God is Love, our Father-Mother, forever giving, giving, giving to all.
Mary Baker Eddy writes: “God gives you His spiritual ideas, and in turn, they give you daily supplies. Never ask for tomorrow: it is enough that divine Love is an ever-present help; and if you wait, never doubting, you will have all you need every moment.” (Miscellaneous Writings 307:1-5)
Be a Living Monument to the Eighth Commandment by radiating trust in God to provide for us all, in His own way and wisdom.
NINTH COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
Although this Commandment was originally a rule to prohibit false accusations in a court of law, the spirit of it would forbid any kind of lying. We know from other statements in the Bible that passing along false information about others was condemned. Here is one from Proverbs: “These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief. A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19)
Mary Baker Eddy explains that these actions are forbidden even in our thoughts: “‘Thou shalt not bear false witness;’ that is, thou shalt not utter a lie, either mentally or audibly, nor cause it to be thought. Obedience to these commandments is indispensable to health, happiness, and length of days.” (Miscellaneous Writings 67:13-17)
Now, who is our “neighbor”? Don’t waste your time hoping this is referring only to those people living in your community. It is a term referring to everyone– even yourself or your worst enemies. You should be wary of self-deception and you should be aware of how you speak of your enemies. To manipulate the facts about another, making suggestive accusations, and smearing the good reputation of another, is a form of “bearing false witness.” To tell lies about our competition, or our siblings, for example, hoping they would be punished, is breaking this Commandment.
Jesus told us to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Would we want others to tell lies about us? Then we should not do it either, no matter how deserving they may seem to be. Mary Baker Eddy explains her standard on this: “I hate no one; and love others more than they can love me. As I now understand Christian Science, I would as soon harm myself as another; since by breaking Christ’s command, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,’ I should lose my hope of heaven.” (Miscellaneous Writings 311:18-22)
In ancient times, when the Ten Commandments were written, if anyone was found lying in court about another, the false accuser would be given the same punishment that would have gone to the person found guilty of the crime. There is spiritual truth to this. If we believe in the reality of sin and evil, such that we are willing to broadcast it as a fact for our neighbor or our enemies, then we will sooner or later suffer from our beliefs in the reality of sin and evil.
We can choose to be Living Monuments to the Ninth Commandment every day: we can choose not to gossip, or to believe in it; we can choose not to slander or libel another on purpose; we can refrain from harshly criticizing or judging others; we can seek the positive over the negative side of situations; we can choose love over fear and hate, no matter what the consequences may be for us; we can bear witness to our true spiritual nature, rather than giving in to the depressing self-talk of low self-esteem. Most of all, we can think and speak and share only the Truth — the spiritual reality of all things as God created them.
TENTH COMMANDMENT: “Thou shalt not covet.”
This Commandment is unique in that it is a law against “thinking” a certain way, rather than a law forbidding certain actions. This is a fit preparation for the teachings of Jesus and for the later teachings of Christian Science. Our thinking determines our experience. The Tenth Commandment asks us to control our thought so that our bodies are not used as tools of evil. To covet is to have a strong desire to possess something, usually something already owned by another. Similar forms of thinking include envy, lust, greed, jealousy, rivalry, passions, appetites, revenge. Jesus gave this warning: “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.” (Luke 12:15)
Obedience to the Ninth Commandment is very important to the Christian Scientist. Mrs. Eddy writes: “Envy, evil thinking, evil speaking, covetousness, lust, hatred, malice, are always wrong, and will break the rule of Christian Science and prevent its demonstration.” (Miscellaneous Writings 19:1-4)
We must root out all forms of covetousness and envy as they come to us. Do you envy others for their physical attraction or athletic abilities? Do you lust for physical pleasure in all its myriad forms: sex, food, drink, drugs, pornography, and so forth? Do you want to be the center of attention, have a title or position that is admired, or own luxuries for the sake of showing them off or making a statement about your personal wealth or importance? These things are so far off the mark! Many who have achieved the ownership of great possessions, or those who have over-indulged in various physical pleasures and activities, can tell you that these things do not bring lasting happiness, satisfaction, or security.
To be a Living Monument to the Tenth Commandment, we must seek out what is worth having. We must look to the spiritual qualities of God for lasting substance. We must challenge the thoughts of envy and desire when they suggest themselves to us aggressively. Mrs. Eddy tells us, “What we most need is the prayer of fervent desire for growth in grace, expressed in patience, meekness, love, and good deeds.” (Science and Health 4:3-5)
There are countless statements in her writings that urge us to turn our thoughts to spiritual reality, rather than materiality, to find peace and happiness. She writes: “Happiness consists in being and in doing good; only what God gives, and what we give ourselves and others through His tenure, confers happiness.” (Message of 1902 17:22-25)
The Tenth Commandment was God’s way of turning our thoughts to Him and His gifts, rather than focusing our life and ambitions on the temporary images of the mortal dream. Obedience to the law against coveting in our thoughts is great practice for the Commandments of Jesus found in the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. We exchange the law of the Old Testament — that protected us from harm until we knew
better — for the law of Love given by Jesus in the New Testament.
SCULPTING AND CARVING OUR LIVING MONUMENTS
As you may now see, there is such a grand opportunity available to us to share the power of the Ten Commandments in our own lives, that the lack of a public display on monuments or wall hangings may not be as important as some feel. While the desire to remind others of these laws of God is a good one, we can get to work right now on our own public and private display! In closing, Mary Baker Eddy has some thoughts about our tasks as spiritual “sculptors.” They are found in Science and Health under the marginal headings “Mental sculpture” and “Perfect models”:
“The sculptor turns from the marble to his model in order to perfect his conception. We are all sculptors, working at various forms, moulding and chiseling thought. What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it? Then you are haunted in your work by vicious sculptors and hideous forms. Do you not hear from all mankind of the imperfect model? The world is holding it before your gaze continually. The result is that you are liable to follow those lower patterns, limit your lifework, and adopt into your experience the angular outline and deformity of matter models.
“To remedy this, we must first turn our gaze in the right direction, and then walk that way. We must form perfect models in thought and look at them continually, or we shall never carve them out in grand and noble lives. Let unselfishness, goodness, mercy, justice, health, holiness, love — the kingdom of heaven — reign within us, and sin, disease, and death will diminish until they finally disappear.
“Let us accept Science, relinquish all theories based on sense-testimony, give up imperfect models and illusive ideals; and so let us have one God, one Mind, and that one perfect, producing His own models of excellence.” (S&H 248:12-249:4)
Copyright 2003 Vicki Jones Cole