Work In Progress

I might be working on Sunday’s sermon, for which I do have the germ of an idea — but instead, I’m sketching the preface to the published version of the Winslow lectures and ruminating about my presentation to the Ekklesia Project in a couple of weeks.

Relative to the latter, I find myself (that’s for Debra and the Seabury writing group) musing about the ideological implications of the first three commandments. For those who don’t have them memorized, those go roughly as follows:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage.
You shall have no other gods but me.

You shall not make for yourself any idol.

You shall not invoke with malice the Name of the Lord your God. (BCP)


I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. (NRSV Ex 20:2-7; cf. also Dt 5:6-11)

I’m working on the notion that the first commandment asserts God’s unique priority over all other considerations; in the context of a resurgent sense of Empire, that unique priority refuses all compromise with any nation’s claims to historic, or economic, or theological privilege. (I’m intrigued that at this point, God does not claim unique existence — “As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols” (BCP, Ps 96:5); rather, the First Commandment simply insists that all other rivals be subordinated to God’s authority.) The Second Commandment then insists on God’s aniconicity, the extent to which God’s people must not affix their allegiance to any specific (tangible, visible) representation of God. That which is sacred can’t be figured in a way that captures the divine nature (so that our representations themselves can never be objects of worship). And the Third Commandment warns that we may not use God; whereas one might plausibly reason that knowledge of the Divine Name gave us a kind of leverage, a power-with God if not a power-over God, the commandment stipulates that we invoke God at our own peril. Even God’s name, the uniquely fitting alphabetic/phonetic representation of God, comes to us not as a tool to be used, but only as a means of recognizing that greater truth, greater promise, by which we order our sublunary efforts to orient ourselves toward the sole source and end of all that is, and of all that should be.

For about forty minutes. That’s what I’m thinking right now.

1 thought on “Work In Progress

  1. Actually, it appears from the translations you offer here that the third commandment does not proscribe the use of God’s name, merely it’s wrongful or malicious use. I hardly need point out that invocation of the Name happens again and again over the history of the tradition. Are there any early theological discussions of the proper, permissible use of the Name? I’m not interested in playing idiotic parlor games, just curious.

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