S. M. Hutchens on the Tenth Commandment
If you have visited the north woods in the summer, perhaps you have met the deerfly, a creature that could make even a disciplined saint have serious second thoughts about the goodness of God. The only good this loathsome insect performs, as far as I can tell, is to serve as an emblem of hemophagous evil. It does not, like the mosquito, subtly insert a slim proboscis into its victim, who often feels the sting only after it has departed. Rather, its method is to land on a part that cannot be quickly defended, there quickly chew a ragged hole in the flesh, and lap up the blood that comes welling out. Its favored landing place is on the top of the head, where, in the case of the deer, the fly is protected by inaccessibility, or on man, by a vantage from which it can easily dodge the slow human hand.
We have now come to the last of the Ten Commandments: You shall not covet, you shall not entertain an unlawful desire for, what belongs to another. You shall not covet house, wife, servants—anything. Covetousness is the deerfly sin. It lands on the place where defenses are weakest, chews a ragged, painful hole, sucks the blood, and persists. It is perhaps the greatest single cause of human unhappiness, not only in those who covet, but also for those whose possessions are coveted, and everyone in the path that lies between them. I have heard it said that there is a God-sized hole in everyone, and that if it is not filled with God, it will be unsuccessfully filled with something else. Whenever we wish to fill that hole with things that don’t belong to us, that is to say, with things we shouldn’t have, we are coveting.
Those who have been in the woods, however, will have learned that there is a simple and sovereign defense against the deerfly: a hat. The fly will find its way through even a good head of hair, but a hat is something the beastie cannot penetrate. It will give up if it can’t find the head.
This commandment is our hat against covetousness for two reasons. For one, it covers the whole head, anticipating everything that we might covet, and for another, it stops the evil before it can gain a foothold by telling us to guard against the attitude that is at the root of a host of evils. Do not covet; be content with what you are given; desire every good thing, but not what pertains to someone else.
There once was a boy who wanted to be a football hero. He was rather clumsy and weighed 130 pounds, but this did not deter him. He manfully practiced, and one game when his team was ahead by fifty points the coach put him in, whereupon he was promptly killed by an opposing left guard named Tiny.
There was once a man who wanted a Turbo-Ram Supercharged, 4-by-4 pickup truck with a twelve-liter engine, off-highway light bar, a B-1 dashboard, and girly mud-flap decorations, more than anything else in the world. A salesman and a loan shark happily obliged him for payments of only $950 per month for the rest of his life. We won’t go into what his wife said and did, but we will say that he was on the whole a happy man until he got tired of the truck, which was about the time the warranty (60 months or 60,000 miles, whichever came first) expired and the transmission fell out onto the road.
You will recognize these stories as fables. The next two I also made up, but they are more serious, and closer, perhaps, to the world we know.
There was once a man who wanted a doctor’s degree more than anything else in the world. He wanted to be regarded as learned and to be greeted with the title. He worked very hard on it, dragging his wife and children through ten miserable years of poverty and abandonment in graduate school, at the end of which he failed his comprehensive examinations and wasn’t allowed to finish. To soften the blow, he purchased a doctor’s diploma from a company that advertised them in magazines, and always used big words when little ones would do, but never really fooled anyone who knew him. He ended up a bitter and angry man.
There was once a woman who wanted a baby more than anything else. She had not been given one of her own body, nor could she get one by other means. She grew angry at God, who obviously hated her, and every time she saw a woman with a baby she felt sick and angry. How many stupid, slovenly, and irresponsible women were blessed with children while she was barren? Her soul shriveled, and the love she once had to give away ran dry.
S. M. Hutchens is a Touchstone senior editor.
• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!
Transactions will be processed on a secure server.
Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.
OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)
Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.
more on the ten commandments from the online archives
more from the online archives
calling all readers
"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand
"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor