‘Love Carved in Stone’ invites us to rethink the Ten Commandments
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Eugenia Anne Gamble thinks of the Ten Commandments more as a love letter from God and less as God’s list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”
The author of the 2019-20 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study, “Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments,” says on a clip accompanying the release of the study that the commandments are more like love letters. Each of the nine lessons — the first two commandments are combined in lesson 1 — is labeled “words of love.”
“I didn’t recognize (the commandments found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) initially as the love letter I now believe they are,” she says. For Gamble, the “wise list of dos and don’ts” teach us “how to behave as God’s people. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. God was speaking a new relationship into being, a new community shaped and formed by God’s nature and God’s values — which are at their core love.”
Interestingly, Gamble notes in the study’s introduction, nowhere in the Hebrew text does the word for “commandment” appear. “In the Bible, these utterances are called just what they are: ‘Words,’” she writes. “This does not make them mere suggestions, however.”
One way to view the Ten Words is as a love letter from God to God’s community stuck in the wilderness. “The Ten Words are an invitation into a passionate life with God and with each other that is fundamentally different from the lives we have led heretofore,” she writes. “They provide boundaries within which we can live in freedom and peace. These Words both warn and encourage … The Ten Words, by telling us what to avoid, also point us toward the behaviors we must embrace.”
Each lesson comes with art that’s carefully chosen to offer a fresh perspective on the Ten Words. Montreal artist Shanna Strauss’ “Belonging” illustrates Lesson Four’s “Honor the Life-Givers.” It depicts a child emerging from a pair of open hands. “I wanted to represent what belonging looked like,” she writes. “For me, an important aspect of belonging is creating spaces where young people can be supported by the community around them so that they can be free to live their best lives and achieve their dreams.”
In each lesson, Gamble pairs a gospel passage with the particular Word being studied. For the Sixth Word, which calls us to refuse to take a life “whether in literal or metaphorical ways,” Gamble cites Jesus’ lessons concerning anger in his Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:21-26. “In this brief teaching,” she notes, “Jesus identifies anger as a prime motivation for murder. Whether murder is physical, psychological or spiritual, it is the same violation. Jesus urges his listeners to examine and come to terms with rage in ways that do not defile others. Failing to do so can result in death to relationships and to our own moral compasses.”
Living into the Ten Words, then, is both good for humankind and pleasing to God.
“The Ten Words, by telling us what to avoid, also point us toward the behaviors we must embrace,” Gamble writes in the introduction. “As we read this love letter, we hear in it God’s longing for a way of life for us that will bring us harmony and joy. Moral behavior matters, not simply because actions can anger or disappoint God, but because principled behavior is how love becomes real, both toward God and in community.”
“Gamble’s ‘Love Carved in Stone’ provides an expanded and nuanced approach to God’s Ten Words that draws on traditional understanding while offering a compelling invitation for today’s people of faith who live in a complex world,” said Susan Jackson-Dowd, executive director of Presbyterian Women. “Interpreting these Ten Words as loving guidance from a loving Creator radically shifts them in our thinking from instructive rules to a liberating message of how to live in relationship with self, community, and God.”
“In such a time as this,” Jackson-Dowd added, “finding courage and encouragement through God’s generous guidance will help God’s people faithfully transform private and public life.”
Summary of the Ten Words
(from “Love Carved in Stone”)
The First Word calls us to allow God to be our One and Only.
The Second Word asks us not to be fooled into substituting other things for God.
The Third Word summons us into deep and honest intimacy with God for who God is and not for what God can do for us.
The Fourth Word calls us, regularly and without fail, to stop and rest in the beauty and provision of God for us and for the whole human family.
The Fifth Word calls us to honor that which is honorable in our heritages and give a place of precedence to those who bring us to the fullness of life.
The Sixth Word calls us, as individuals and as a society, to refuse to “take life,” whether in literal or metaphorical ways.
The Seventh Word reminds us that life-long commitments matter, not just to us but to the whole community.
The Eighth Word reminds us not to take from others — not their possessions, their self-esteem or their livelihood. This word asks us to ponder how our choices take from or lift up others.
The Ninth Word calls us to fundamental honesty in all of our dealings and in the institutions of our society.
The Tenth Word calls each of us to trust God’s provision and to welcome the unique lives that we live.
Order “Love Carved in Stone” and accompanying resources, including a companion DVD, by clicking here.
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Categories: Women’s Ministries
Tags: horizons magazine, love carved in stone, presbyterian women, rev. eugenia anne gamble
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