Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 51: The First and Second Commandments
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 51: The First and Second Commandments

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

When the ancient Hebrews received the First Commandment that they were to worship only one God, this was a radical departure from the pantheon of gods that characterized other ancient religions. For one thing, this avoided the easy temptation to project peoples’ own desires and conflicts onto their gods. People believing in polytheism envisioned their own mimetic rivalries as having parallels among the gods, making it easy for them to justify their violence on the grounds that their violence reflected the violence among their gods. With only one God, it was difficult for the ancient Hebrews to see analogies to their squabbles in God.

This monotheistic outlook did not guarantee peace, because the Hebrews still saw God as multifaceted. God could still be angry and jealous, as well as loving and compassionate. I think the ancient Hebrews failed to fully appreciate God’s nature, as well as the brilliance of monotheism, because they were unprepared for a complete revelation of divine will. For example, loving parents sometimes believe that they must feign anger in order to instill obedient fear in children. Similarly I think that it was necessary for the ancient Hebrews to fear the Lord’s anger because they could not comprehend, nor adhere to the dictates of, a God who was completely loving and forgiving. As God’s love was gradually revealed, the Hebrews’ understanding of God evolved, as the later prophets demonstrated. For example, Micah declared, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (8:8)

The brilliance of monotheism is that it allows us to see God as having only one essence. The Second Commandment, prohibiting “graven images,” tries to discourage the universal human tendency towards idolatry, which involves projecting human attributes onto God (see essay 12). Even the common practice of envisioning God as a single person somewhat misses the point, because this permits people to regard God, like humans, as having many personality traits. I think it’s more helpful to regard God as having a single essence. This essence includes creativity, goodness, and love: “God is light and in him is no darkness at all.” (I John 1:5) The darkness we see is not divine, but rather it reflects human judgment, condemnation, punishment, and murder, which we are tempted to attribute to God. Christians see darkness as the absence of light, or in this case the absence of God’s presence in human decision-making and action.

We have been created in God’s image and likeness, which gives us the capacity to receive God as our ultimate model for our mimetic desires and behavior. Indeed, Jesus said, “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48). We should direct our desires not towards what fellow humans want, but towards God’s desire, which includes creative goodness. We should strive for Godly perfection, and not try to make excuses for accepting the imperfect ways of the world, just because we are imperfect. When we seek God’s perfection, our faith is truly monotheistic.

Go on to: Part 52: The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Commandments
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