Q: What does the tenth commandment forbid?
A: The tenth commandment forbids any dissatisfaction with what belongs to us, envy or grief at the success of others, and all improper desire for anything that belongs to someone else.
The Ten Commandments, and the tenth commandment in particular, raises the question of what exactly is “natural.”
One could argue that coveting is the most natural thing in the world. Not only does everyone do it but we all do it unthinkingly, whether fleetingly or obsessively. It doesn’t really seem to be a choice but more like an emotion, and aren’t we not to censor feelings but validate them? One could even argue that dissatisfaction lies at the core of human ambition, that innovation–certainly not capitalism–would not exist without it.
If we pursue this line of thinking, we’re tempted to feel that what is problematic is the excesses of that dissatisfaction, not the natural impulse itself. The twinge of longing, we tell ourselves, is fine, even useful, as long as we don’t let it get out of control, don’t let it fester into something actually evil, like hatred or theft.
And yet we’re told that the covetousness itself is verboten, that it’s actually in some fundamental sense not natural at all. It is an aspect of a tragic world, a reality separated from God and His divine design. It seems natural to us because our nature is sinful, and that sinfulness is something every person inherits–and it is inherent to every person–but we are asked to conceive that it does not have to be so, and that it is not really meant to be so.
It is as if we are zombies, trapped by an inexorable but perverse hunger. So much of who we are is defined by that hunger that we find it impossible to conceive of any other way, let alone consider that this existence is not right, that it’s meant to be another way. Truth be told, our existential abomination argues for our absolute extermination if we are to consider a more wholesome world.
Instead, we’re given a window of redemption and a chance at rehabilitation–not through our own power but in dependence of a Savior.
When we turn our attention to our children, and they do something entirely age-appropriate but obnoxious, like snatch a toy from another child or throw a tantrum in the middle of the store, we tend to feel this demonstrates a trait we need to vigorously train out of the child or explain away the impulse as natural, a symptom of something that we can channel into something more productive.
The first approach tends to gives more credit to a capacity for uncomplicated goodness that we don’t actually possess. Mere instruction, incentive, practice, and technique will not turn a child from bad to good; it, instead, props up an artificial compliance that hides what is lacking in the heart.
The other approach not only excuses the moral significance of that rebellion, but also reductively condemns our kids to making the most of their basest, most accessible impulses.
Let us focus, rather, on providing a vision of what is true, what is noble, what is right, what is pure, and what is lovely, not as an aspiration, but as a person. Let us be Christ to them, but then also teach them to seek Christ and build a relationship to Him. It may feel, many times, like it goes against our grain to do so, but we may find, when we do so anyways, that we slowly recover our lost humanity.