Life, Murder, Value
If you were to take a poll of people and ask them which of the ten commandments they felt they have obeyed you would get lots of different answers. Most likely the sixth and seventh commandments would be the two that the majority of people would point to. They have not killed anyone nor have they cheated on their spouse. But as we study these two commandments we will find ourselves once again driven to the throne of grace to plead for forgiveness and mercy.
There is no one here today who would stand up and say that it was acceptable for one person to go out and murder another. When we read the horrible stories of children shooting children, or terrorists striking out, or people being slain by madmen, we agree that these things are wrong.
The Bible is clear that taking the life of another is wrong three main reasons. First, God holds the keys to life. He gives life and He alone has the authority and right to determine when a life will end. When someone takes the life of another they presume to play God. Second, human beings are unique in the fact that they are made in the image of God. They are not like the other animals. When you attack a human being you are attacking the one in whose image they are made. And third, there is the practical matter that life is precious and should be treated as such. When one life is treated as if it is worthless . . . all of our lives are diminished.
Now, having said all this it would be nice to pat ourselves on the back and move on to the next commandment . . . but we can’t. There is much more to the commandment than what we have just said. It is more relevant to contemporary life than you realize. What we will do is look at the commandment from the negative side and from the positive side. . . .what the command speaks against and what it speaks for. Then we will address some remaining questions that need to be clarified.
THE COMMANDMENT AS PROHIBITION
You may notice that some versions of the Bible use the word kill, others use the word murder. If I am understanding it correctly, the Hebrew word refers to the taking of a judicially innocent life. Now this command has relevance to some of the “hot issues” of today. Let’s look at them.
mercy killing or euthanasia. A “mercy killing” is when active measures are taken to end the life of another to spare them pain or indignity. This practice has been made very public by Dr. Kervorkian and his “Doctor assisted suicide.” The argument is made that when a person’s “quality of life” is no longer good they should be helped to die if that is what they wish. The practice is becoming quite prevalent in our country.
What we often don’t realize is that Holland has practiced euthanasia for 20 years. And from surveys there what they have discovered is that more requests for euthanasia came from families than from the patients. In addition, it was discovered that families, doctors and nurses are often involved in pressuring the patients to choose the course of euthanasia because their situation is helpless. [TEN WORDS p. 111, 112]
In other words, euthanasia encourages the mentality that we should “dispose” of those who can no longer “do” anything. Often a person feels pressured to choose such a course because of the high cost of health care, or because they don’t want to be a burden on their family, or they have the feeling that they are useless. “Mercy Killing” may have a nice sound but it is fraught with danger. There are some important questions we must ask,
- who defines “quality of life”? While we can see what is happening in the body how do we judge what God is doing in the heart and mind?
- who makes the decision as to when a person no longer has the requisite quality of life? Who is it that gets to play God? Is it a Doctor, a family member, a government official? What happens if that power gets into the hands of a Hitler?
- how can you know that a person choosing this course is not making a decision to “please their family” or speaking out of depression and given enough time would choose to live?
- how can we be sure that the “disposing of the elderly” will not then be followed by the disposing of those who are physically challenged? or mentally challenged? or don’t fit in?
I don’t know why God allows some people to suffer? I don’t know why God doesn’t simply take someone home to Heaven rather than allow them to linger in a state where they are miserable, afraid, and no longer recognize those who love them most? But just because we don’t know the reason doesn’t mean that there is not a reason. Perhaps God is teaching us. Maybe He allows these things to teach us about compassion. Maybe He is trying to teach us about unconditional love. Or maybe God is doing something in and through that person that we cannot see. I don’t know.
When we play God in the life of another person, we violate this commandment. Euthanasia is wrong.
Then there is the volatile issue of abortion and infanticide. Abortion is where a pregnancy is humanly terminated. Infanticide is where an infant is allowed to die or actively killed (often in the womb) because of birth defects. Infanticide happens because parents want a “perfect child” and if they believe their child will not be perfect, so they choose to kill it rather than bring it into the world facing difficulty.
I know that abortion is controversial. And I know that many well-meaning people may disagree with me. But I have to be honest, I don’t get it. The argument that a woman has a right over her own body is certainly reasonable. And if a woman chooses to give her body to another and willingly risks pregnancy, it seems to me that this is her choice. (It may be a sinful choice but it is her choice.) I am pro-choice to this degree. But if a person wants freedom to choose they should also be willing to live with the consequences of their choices. I don’t understand why the baby should be killed because a person doesn’t like the consequences of the choices they freely made.
You may choose to drink and drive. And in this state you may kill a family in a car crash. Would it make any sense to argue that you didn’t want to kill anyone? Would it make any sense to say, “but, I don’t want to accept the consequences of my behavior?” Of course not. We make choices and we have to live with the consequences of those choices.
But of course there is another issue. If that baby is a human being . . . and I think it is and I believe the Bible teaches that it is, then this, the most helpless of human beings should be protected, not killed. We are not free to eliminate the life of another simply because it is more convenient for our life. I believe abortion and infanticide break the sixth commandment.
Suicide. I am always scared when someone says, “Does someone who commits suicide go to Hell?” I’m scared because I don’t ever want to encourage someone to take their own life. When one decides on suicide they are deciding to play the part of God. And I personally don’t want to act in defiance of God knowing that I am going to have to face Him very soon.
Sure, life is tough. At times it seems that it would be a whole lot easier if we just ended things. But we are not thinking clearly. Suicide is a faithless act. And when a non-believer commits suicide they are in essence eliminating any chance they have of heaven. When a professing Christian commits suicide one has to wonder about the validity of their faith. But let me be real careful here.
- there are cases of people who committed suicide in the Bible. Some soldiers took their own life in the heat of battle to be kept from being captured by the enemy. King Saul fell on his own sword. And of course, Judas committed suicide. But the fact that there are some who committed suicide does not mean these people are in Heaven, or that their actions were approved by God.
- there are times when people act impulsively, but are not thinking clearly. Some people snap. Others have delusions brought on by medicine. In other words, they commit suicide when they are not thinking clearly. These are horrible times but I don’t think they are acts which mean a person can’t go to Heaven. I think suicide is wrong. But I also think that saying that anyone who commits suicide is going to Hell is equally wrong. We don’t know what a person was thinking. God does. And we have to leave it at that.
Murder of the Heart. Now before you sit in smug judgment on others we need to go further with the command. Hang on. Listen to what Jesus said,
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. [Mt. 5:21,22, NLT]
Let that sink in! In Galatians Paul lists things that reveal a sinful heart : “hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, the feeling that everyone is wrong except those in your own little group, envy,” [Gal 5:21] What makes all of these things bad is that each of these attitudes is anchored in a hatred that is the very seed of murder. Hatred is mental murder.
Are these crimes of the heart as bad as murdering someone? Of course not. It is worse to do it than it is to think it. But they are both sinful. They are not equally bad but they are both sin. If we take this principle and play it out we find that several things are condemned,
- prejudice . . . the belief that one human being is more valuable because of skin color, religion, where they live etc. We don’t have to agree with a person’s behavior (in fact many behaviors should be called sin) but the people must still be cherished. Little groups that exclude or ridicule others are breaking this commandment.
- envy. Envy is when you hate someone for what they have. It is when you wish they didn’t have something and you did . . . or when you wish you had everything they had. It is to begrudge someone for their good fortune. Someone has called envy “the rust of a cankered soul, a foul vice which turns the happiness of others into our own misery.”
- destroying a reputation. Have you ever thought of the violence done to another by slander? You can kill a person’s reputation. You can kill their chance of a job. You can kill a relationship by the dagger of a word planted in the right place at the right time. Slander is diabolical. It is hatred masquerading as concern.
Squirming yet? Remember, this is just the negative side of the coin. There is more.
THE COMMANDMENT AS PRECEPT
The positive side of the command is this: we are to value and cherish life. We are to be pro-life in every sense. We are to actively work to defend, protect, and enrich the lives of others. Adam Clarke writes that we violate this command when there is
want of charity to the helpless and distressed; for he who has it in his power to save the life of another by a timely application of refreshment, food, clothing, etc., and does not do it, and the life of the person either falls or is cut short on this account, is in the sight of God a murderer. He who neglects to save life is, according to an incontrovertible maxim in law, the SAME as he who takes it away. [Adam Clarke Commentary Vol. 1 p. 811]
Christians really need to hear this part of the commandment. We are really good at sitting on our “high horse” and condemning those who have had an abortion, or speaking out against the Dr. Kevorkians of the world. But we are just as guilty if we are not actively pursuing and defending life. Bring pro-life is more than being against abortion.
Jesus makes it clear that loving Him means loving others. In Matthew 25 Jesus describes those who love Him as those who: fed the hungry, clothed the naked, took in the strangers, cared for the sick and visited those who were imprisoned. There is allot more to being pro-life than to simply be against abortion. Being pro-life means,
- we are concerned about the homeless
- we extend practical care to those who are sick or in need
- we work to eliminate disease
- we are willing to take in unwanted children
- we are active in reaching to the outcasts
- we notice those others ignore
- we cherish and defend the rights of those who cannot defend themselves
You and I know that we could spend weeks talking about the implications of such things. Frankly, it exhausts me to think of how often my actions betray what I say I believe. I have all kinds of questions. What does valuing life mean for how I respond to the poor, the environment, to those who would deny human rights to people, to refugees, to those I just don’t like? I don’t have answers . . . but we must ask the questions if we want to be people who are governed by God’s heart.
- What about the death penalty?
Christians disagree on this issue. Let me state several things. First, God told us that “life shall go for life” (Dt. 19:21;) and “whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Gen. 9:6). When men are sentenced to death it is not the case of man playing God . . . it is the matter of man obeying God. God has the right and authority to declare what should happen to those who kill others. God declares that life is so valuable that anyone who dares to steal life from another . . . forfeits his own life.
But the second thing we must point out is that the Bible also provided that the death penalty should be carefully administered. Every avenue should be checked to make sure that the person is actually guilty. In the Bible a person could not be executed unless there were two witnesses. And every witness knew that if they declared that an innocent man was guilty, the witness would die. We should certainly support the appeals process and all the “checks and balances” designed to make sure innocent people are not executed. We should also work to make sure that the law is applied fairly to all.
- What about war?
The Ten Commandments forbids murder and yet the same God who gave the command frequently told people to go to war against another. In fact, there were times when God told the Israelites to annihilate an entire town and not to leave anyone standing. Is God inconsistent?
Once again we must note a couple of things. First, God has authority to extend judgment to a nation. He is the righteous Judge. God can exercise His judgment anytime He chooses. When a nation is destroyed they cannot claim that it was an injustice. We cannot demand God’s mercy.
Second, we know that sometimes horrible people and destructive philosophies must be stopped. And sometimes this leads to war. A war that is purely economic in nature would be wrong. A war that was fought out of spite or anger would be wrong. But a war engaged in to defend others, or to free the oppressed, or to defend our families would be considered a “just war”. War should never be entered into quickly but sometimes needs to take place.
- What about an accidental death or self-defense?
Ex. 21:12-14 “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate. But if a man schemes and kills another man deliberately, take him away from my altar and put him to death.
The “place that I will designate” was called a city of refuge. God’s prescription was simple: anyone who does not value life (and shows this by murdering another) should lose his life. Consequently, if someone killed another by accident it was common for the family to come looking for him/her. They were going to exact “justice”. So, the person ran to a “city of refuge”. In that city of refuge the facts would be examined. If the person killed another accidentally they would be kept in the city until the High Priest died. This was their protection from the vengeance of family.
Accidents happen. And sometimes those accidents have tragic consequences. If the accident was caused by reckless behavior, a person should be held accountable. But if there was no recklessness the person should be forgiven.
In the case of self-defense in the Bible the person is never held responsible if they were defending themselves.
- What about living wills?
The Bible does not speak directly on the idea of what is now called “living wills”. One of the reasons for this is because in the Bible days there were able to keep you alive or revive you. A living will is a document that says you do not wish to be kept alive by machines (such as a respirator). Some people will also have a DNR (do not resuscitate) order. This means if their heart stops medical personnel are not to try to revive the person.
The controversy comes in because many view this as an act of suicide. But this is much different than an aggressive act to end your life. A living will and the DNR orders are documents that are basically saying that you will leave your fate with God. Sometimes machines are not used and people get better. The person who makes out a living will is not sinning. They are not “playing God” they are resting in God.
Should you have a living will? That’s your decision. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with using medical technology . . . but there is also nothing wrong with drawing a line as to how much of that technology you wish to use. This choice is yours. Either way you do not sin.
As we have worked our way through this commandment I would suspect that something in this discussion has pricked your conscience. Somewhere you have been made aware that you have broken this commandment. In fact, my guess is that you are now 0 for 6 when it comes to the commandments.
It is important to remind you that the message of the gospel is extended to sinful people. Paul wrote to the Romans that there is no one who does good and no one who seeks God. We have all turned away. We have all stumbled. You are not alone in your failure.
We’re not here today to point fingers. We’re not here to beat each other up or try to argue that one sin is worse than another. We have come this day to be reminded of God’s incredible grace. In spite of what we have done, He offers forgiveness. In the Bible we see those who were forgiven of murder and those who were forgiven for hatred and indifference.
The place to start is to admit the truth. We find forgiveness after we admit that we need it. You may have done something horrible in the past. Maybe you have contributed to the death of a person in some capacity. Or maybe you have destroyed someone with your words. Or maybe you have hated someone and kept it buried deep down inside of you. You can be forgiven. Christ went to the cross to pay for sins just like these.
It’s time to admit the truth. It’s time to bow before the Father and confess your wrong. It’s time to ask for forgiveness. And if you ask, He will forgive. It’s also time to ask for a new heart. It’s time to ask that He will so work in you that you will value life and those who have life in them. Ask that God will help you see the treasure that He has placed in every individual. Ask Him to show you what you can do to help others, and then to give you the courage to do what you can.