Explore the “Why” Behind the Commandments

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The Christian Life Needs us to Address the “whys” of Morality


There’s a difference between a nice person and a moral person. I’m sure we all know genuinely nice people whose morals are askew. We may also know moral people whose charity is lacking. So how do we teach morality to our teens without creating either inappropriate piety or spineless do-gooders?

I think the answer lies with the “why” of it, and the Ten Commandments might be a simple (and obvious) place to start. In addition to having your teens simply memorize them, take the time to explore the “why” behind them. Let’s look at two examples.

1. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (or Thou Shalt Not Lie): Say to the students, “Why not? The answer can’t be because God said so, or your mom said so, or I said so. Those aren’t answers that will lend a sense of importance to the command.” Explore with the students what lying implies: mistrust, playing God in deciding what’s true and what’s not, hiding something that should be confessed or repented of — or both, valuing someone else’s opinion or assessment more than God’s. The list can be long, and each implication can lead to its own healthy discussion, depending on the age of your students.

2. I am the Lord your God. You shall have no other gods before me: Explore with the students what they might be tempted to use to replace God in their lives. Why are they doing that? Is it easier? More immediately rewarding? More popular? What does this say about their love for God? Their trust in God? Their belief in his Word and his promises? What does it say about who they believe God really is? What he really deserves from us? Again, depth and breadth depend on the age and maturity of your students, but the possibilities are endless.

The ultimate “why” for living a moral life is, of course, because we are made in the image and likeness of God, and our call as baptized Catholics is to live out that image in the world so others might come to know him. But exploring some of the “sub-whys” will be helpful in focusing your students on the ultimate “why.” When we live a truthful life — avoiding lies and the implications you and your students have discussed — we look like God. And others will take notice.


BECKY GROTH is a producer for ODB Films.


This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2018


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