by Dr. Mary Kay Clark
It is no coincidence that the first sin listed in the Bible is one of disobedience. It is certainly not surprising to parents, whose toddlers, when told “come,” often go instead.
As parents, we want our children to be as free as possible. But we also recognize that there must be limits to freedom. As much as we want our children to be free, we do not want them to use that freedom to place a hand upon a hot stove. We do not want them to use their freedom to jump off the house. A child who places a hand on a hot stove will be burned, and a child who jumps from high places will break bones. Young children may not know or believe in the laws of physics, but they are laws nonetheless, and the children will not escape the consequences.
Just as there are laws in the physical world, so there are laws in the moral life. Just as there are consequences of actions in the physical world, so there are consequences of actions in the moral life. St. Paul says that the moral law is written in the heart. He means that everyone instinctively knows what is right and what is wrong. Those things which are right are things which tend toward the good of the individual and society. Those things which are wrong are things which harm the individual or society. If we want a better society, then we must be better people.
Secularists look at God’s laws as some sort of arbitrary set of rules. But God’s laws are not arbitrary. They are a necessary set of rules which come from the nature of man. They are the principles which make it possible for individuals and societies to live in peace and prosperity.
We can use human reason to understand the moral law. We can reason to the notion that murder, and stealing, and lying are wrong. But, to help our fallen nature come to the right conclusions, God has given us the Ten Commandments. The Commandments do not make certain actions wrong. They merely recognize and confirm that certain actions actually are wrong. In other words, stealing is not wrong because the Commandments prohibit it. Rather, the Commandments prohibit stealing because stealing is wrong. The individual who is robbed suffers, and the individual who does the stealing suffers the consequences when others discover he is a thief.
The Commandments tell us how to live a virtuous life. They tell us not to do those things which will hurt ourselves and others. Just as we teach our children the laws of physics so that they are not injured, we need to teach our children also the laws of God so that they may lead happy and productive lives. Just as one cannot ignore the laws of physics, one cannot ignore the laws of God. For every action, there is a reaction, whether we like it or not.
God Himself confirms how important it is to teach these laws to our children. In Deuteronomy Chapter 6, through Moses, God commands the people to keep all His commandments “which I command thee, and thy sons and thy grandsons, all the days of thy life … And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thy heart. And thou shall tell them to thy children; And thou shall meditate upon them, sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping, and rising. … And thou shall write them in the entrance, and on the doors of thy house.”
We must teach our children that following the laws of God does not mean slavery, but instead brings true freedom. Conversely, breaking the laws of God means being a slave to sin.
Being a slave to sin does not bring a happy life to anyone. Liars, cheaters, murderers, and adulterers are not happy people. No one puts them forward as role models. No one says they want to be just like them. Rather, it is only those who follow the Commandments who can find happiness in this life.
Following the Commandments also means happiness in the life to come. Jesus tells us, “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” And He further says, “If you love me, keep my Commandments.” (John 14:15) Conversely we might say that not keeping the Commandments shows that we do not love Him.
If we love God, then we will keep his Commandments, including his command to teach our children the Faith. And if we love our children, we will want to teach them, because by knowing and keeping the Commandments, they can be happy in this life and the next.