The Ten Commandments, not often associated with annual project planning, actually are a reliable guide for what is real. God actually did segment the potential thematic elements of all we will face, and he did it on tablets of stone. So the Decalogue serves us as a way to put our feet on a firm foundation when other factors try to convince us that life is a chaotic mess.
December is for the next year’s planning, or so many of us think. No one plans the next year in November. And no one plans for the next year once it has begun (i.e., in January). But is that the best time to plan for such a large chunk of our lives, a whole twelve months? I suppose it is inconsequential since yearly planning seldom occurs outside of the time-honored month designated as the twelfth.
The lean and pull to planning in December relates to how we account for time in twelve months, somewhat related to the seasons. A full description of how all this works out is beyond the scope of what I’m trying to cover in this brief essay. But I’ll say in broad and sweeping (and potentially reckless terms) that the reason we plan in December is that we’re trying to make sense of reality—a reality segmented into batches, batches that end and begin and begin again. But that leads to some honest introspection as to whether December is the best time exactly to make sense of the reality of time.
When we’re honest with ourselves, December is really difficult. If you’re a pastor, this is obvious. Whatever you did for Thanksgiving is in the rear-view mirror faster than deacons resign before the mission conference. And now you have to prepare for a Christmas Eve service, Christmas morning service, and whatever else falls in between. Adding to this, the bulk of your crisis counseling will happen between December and February. There are reasons for this,1 but again, they are outside the scope of this brief essay. Scheduling and people’s problems are enough to prove the point that December is difficult.
And if you’re not a pastor, the same truth controls. December is hard. You’ve said goodbye to Thanksgiving. And now you’re staring down Christmas (and New Year) with all of their requisite family gatherings, and joys, and dramas, and memories, and uncle Jack staying longer than expected with his whittling kit setup in your living room—wood shavings on the carpet and all. You get the point. December has a bit of psychic trauma attached to it. So, I know what we’ll do; we’ll sit in the middle of it and plan for the next year. What could go wrong? Could I suggest that December isn’t the greatest time to plan for anything, and yet that is precisely what we need to do? There could be a better way.
Enter the Decalogue as Real
There is a better way. When God’s people left Egypt, God buried the greatest military might of that generation under a few metric tons of Red Sea water. You can imagine the elation and fear of the Israelites—this is awesome; how do we avoid a watery grave? The answer was clearly God’s grace because the Israelites hadn’t done anything to be saved except to be in slavery and be favored by God. But God, following that deliverance, provided a Decalogue—ten words that would forever shape the world’s understanding of reality.
And I mean that; the Ten Commandments shape reality. They summarize everything we could and should consider about God and the world he created for us to live in. They aren’t just ten suggestions. They aren’t just the most important ten things. They are the only important ten things. They are an outline of reality.
The Positive in the Negative
I always have to address this whenever I say things like I’ve said so far. The Ten Commandments, in their negatives, also include their positives. What I mean by that is that the Decalogue is mostly “thou shalt not.” But for each “thou shalt not,” there is a “thou shalt” included. And for the minority “thou shalt” among the Decalogue, there is included the negative “thou shalt not.” So, when God says, “don’t murder,” he also says, “protect life at all costs.” When God says to rest on the seventh day, he also says don’t rest on the other six.2