The Used Car Lot
© 31 Oct 2011 Luther Tychonievich
Licensed under Creative Commons: CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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A thought about the niceties of having commandments.


Yesterday in Sunday School, after putting a list of 22 commandments on the board, Stephen Merrel, our instructor, asked us to comment on the blessings of commandments. As he did an image came to mind and rapidly grew into a parable; a parable I did not then share, but which I deem worth sharing now.

Six years ago I purchased my first car. I was living at the time in Provo, Utah, and there were several large car lots in the neighborhood. I knew I wanted one of a small set of car models but there were many examples of those models available from multiple sellers. The ability to choose was nice, but the number of choices was overwhelming.

The image that came to me yesterday was of walking through those car lots looking at the cars, but with a visual overlay that highlighted flaws in the vehicles. A scratch in the paint was highlighted, an ill-fitting head gasket identified, etc. And a few of the cars had, simply, “‍lemon‍” Lemon: American and British slang, circa 1900, meaning something worthless passed off as something good. Current American usage is largely restricted to cars that are sold with unseen but debilitating flaws. , with no further explanation given. In my mind’s re-imaging of my past as I looked over the lot, only a handful of cars were clear of such markings. Relieved, I was able to chose from a select set with the comfortable certainty that my choice would not lead me astray.

Commandments are much like those overlays in my mind. Some of them are quite articulate: Israelites who gathered too much manna found it roted and bred worms (Exodus 16:16–20). Others merely identified actions as “‍lemons‍” without explanation: Israelites were commandment not to eat swine (Leviticus 11:7–8) without any explanation.

A week ago I was chatting with some people who said that coffee was the only reason they were awake. I commented I intended this to be speculation, not assertion; I think I may have failed to convey that nuance properly. that coffee may make you awake now, but at a cost in future alertness. They agreed, but said it was a compromise they were willing to make. It’s a compromise I don’t even need to consider: in 1833 the Lord commanded us not to drink coffee and tea, so that’s one lemon clearly labeled as such.

Life is simpler with commandments. Many of the bad decisions are identified for me. I’m still free to buy a lemon if I want to, but why would I want such a thing? Praise be for a book of commandments.

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