Q: What is the reason for the third commandment?
A: The reason for the third commandment is that the Lord our God will not allow those who break this commandment to escape His righteous judgement, although they may escape punishment from men.
I have been having difficulty with this question of the catechism and continue to wrestle with it. We have reflected on the profundity of the third commandment and seen how it echoes throughout the rest of the law, especially in the prior two commandments. It is, in many ways, the commandment that we most readily and thoughtlessly break. What does it mean, then, that its existential purpose rests on the surety of God’s judgment?
One thing that has helped me is Pastor Jimmy’s reminder at this past church retreat of the notion of progressive revelation. What may seem at first glance to be a shifting in standards or doctrine at different snapshots of the Old Testament resolves itself when we look at the overall narrative of that history. From this scope we see that there is a deliberate vector of revelation that both broadens and deepens our understanding of God’s perfection over time. His character expands in facets and levels of virtue while humanity’s notability is correspondingly eclipsed in its diminishment and failure. Just as we may allow a certain latitude with our very youngest children and expect them over time to get old enough to know better, so God has gradually let us adjust to seeing His glory. In our case, however, our dawning understanding of the Name we inherit leads us to a simultaneous conclusion of our ultimate and undeniable unworthiness.
Jesus, then, is a kind of metaphysical singularity. He is the endgame of this revelation, and a new beginning. The Alpha and the Omega. A single bloody door of Passover, the threshold between us and God, through which is both forgiveness and the freedom to finally do right and grasp at a holy identity. A single name above all others.
If we stay stuck in the muck of our present reality, obsessed with the world of man, we will never see Him. We may never know, until it is too late, the full cost of our sin, of our mockery of God, His will, His word, and His created order. We will never know how little we measure up in the full extent of the scale since, instead, we only compare ourselves to each other.
When we consider, though, God in His glory, His name in reverence, we have to face with sobriety how we have no rightful place in that schema. We are utterly and justly effaced, laid low to annihilation.
At the end of our despair comes a savior. A still, small invitation to connect despite everything, at the cost of personal sacrifice. Do we dare scoff His name then?