Erecting Boundaries

29 Oct Erecting Boundaries

This week our journey through the Ten Commandments brings us to number seven: “Thou shall not commit adultery.”

It needs to be said that “thou shall not” does not leave us any wiggle room. God does not put into stone ten signs that say, “I’m advising against this.” No. God has broken our chains of slavery and set us on the hard road to transformation and freedom, and these signposts (i.e., laws) warn us that if we do these things we’re going to go off the cliff. It is a gift that the law alerts us to danger and seeks to keep us safely on the path, like guard rails erected along a curvy mountainside roadway to protect us from veering off and over and down, down, down to our destruction.

Even so, the commandments are a hard sell. A big part of the problem is that we are confused about the meaning of freedom, falsely believing that freedom means I get to do what I want when I want. We have equated freedom with a lack of boundaries, a lack of guard rails especially if those boundaries are erected by someone else, even God.

In a commencement address to Duke University several years ago, journalist Ted Koppel put it this way: We resist the truth that sometimes the answer is “no.” Not no “because it isn’t cool or smart or because you might end up in jail or dying [of] AIDS—but no, because it’s wrong. Because we have spent 5000 years as a race of rational human beings trying to drag ourselves out of the primeval slime by searching for truth and moral absolutes. In the place of Truth we have discovered facts; for moral absolutes we have substituted moral ambiguity. We now communicate with everyone and say absolutely nothing. We have reconstructed the Tower of Babel and it is a television antenna.” (Today he might say a Wi-Fi connection.)

That’s certainly the case when it comes to the 7th commandment. At its most basic this law is intended to erect boundaries, or guard rails, around the relationship between spouses, to protect this most important and intimate of social relationships. The act of adultery violates the sacred trust between partners and causes deep and penetrating pain that often leaves permanent scars. But, adultery doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There are attitudes and desires in the heart and mind that are present long before adultery occurs. That’s why Jesus links lust with the act of sexual infidelity. To guard against the latter, you must honestly acknowledge and deal with the former. We deny or ignore our “disordered desires” (St. Augustine’s term) at our own peril.

The positive side of this commandment speaks to developing loving, faithful relationships in which partners honor and respect one another, seek one another’s good, and develop deep, mutual trust. It is a profound gift—and joy—to be seen, known and loved and to love another in return. And, it can all be blown apart by one fleeting, momentary pleasure.   Do we really want to settle for so little when God has made us for so much more?

Yours for the Kingdom,


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