Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ask the Pastor: How do the Ten Commandments Apply Today? Part 6

You Shall Not Murder
            As we continue our series working through how the ten commandments relate to Christians today, we come to a command that -- considering its relative length (one word plus a negative particle in the Hebrew), has had much ink spilt over its application. While I will not seek to add a new opinion to the deluge of thoughts that are already out there, I will try to handle the text appropriately and in light of the greater context of the Bible as a whole. 

            A bloody history. It took mankind all of one generation to violate one of the most precious reflections of God’s moral character: the killing of an “image bearer” by another image bearer in cold blood. Cain, the first human being to ever be born in the natural sense, murdered his brother Abel (Gen. 4). From that point mankind descended into such degradation and perversity that Almighty God decided the only legitimate course of action was to purge the earth and start over. Upon Noah and his family’s emergence from the Ark, God gave them a few commands, one of which stood as a stark reminder of the value and importance of human life. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6, ESV). Here we have the institution of human government in its most basic form. Human life is so precious to God (even sinful, nasty, pagan human life), that He places a huge punishment on those who take it!

            A long line of misinterpretation. For centuries, theologians, pastors, and lay-level Christians have struggled with balancing the teaching of Scripture in this area. Some have yelled, “contradiction” and see the command to not kill as being in direct opposition to Gen. 9:6, which not only authorizes, but mandates the death of human beings. Others have taken the command of Exodus 20 in another direction, applying it to all life whatsoever, whether it be dogs, cats, or even mosquitoes and house flies! Still others seek to apply it to armed conflict, and rather than wading through the implications of what is and what is not murder, they simply state that all war killing is murder and avoid the argument all together. I would contend that all of the above are misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the Biblical teaching.

            A closer look at the Book. When we dive into this essentially two word command, we come in contact with a Hebrew word that carries a wide range of ideas, all related to killing. The word is ratsach, and carries the idea of “to murder, slay or kill” which can be accidental, premeditated, done as the Old Testament role of the “avenger,” or what we would today call a “crime of passion” in which someone simply loses their temper, lashes out, and kills someone. The question that must be asked is, “does every occurrence of a specific word in any language carry with it every single possible meaning?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” The same applies in English. If I tell my wife that I am going to “run over to the church,” the word “run” can carry a variety of different meanings. In most contexts, what I mean is that I need to go over to the church for some purpose. However, if I am wearing my running clothes and shoes, I may be literally saying that I need to run to the church! Context determines which acceptable meaning of a word is appropriate in any one sentence. The same applies here. Based on the command of Genesis 9:6, the situations laid out in Exodus 21, as well as a host of other inferences and commands throughout scripture, I would define the “murder” of Exodus 20:13 as just that- murder. Anytime someone intentionally takes the life of another person outside of the stipulations laid out for capital punishment in Scripture (not necessarily as laid out by specific governmental systems), or in self-defense, they have committed murder.

            What does that look like today? Even though we all have in-laws, neighbors, or fellow church members who drive us crazy, I doubt anyone needs to be reminded that knocking them off is simply out of the question when it comes to God’s rulebook! However, there are some ways in which God’s command concerning the value of life applies to our society that might strike closer to home.

            Abortion. If life begins at conception (I believe it does), or even at implantation, as some argue, our nation has been guilty of murdering millions of human lives over the years. It is very easy to dismiss the “abortion” issue as political, but that is placing emphasis in the wrong area. The only reason that abortion has become such a hot button political issue is because it matters so much to those who value life (and to those who don’t value life!). Politicians do not harp on issues that do not generate support. This is not about taking away a woman’s rights.  It is about protecting life. The child being formed inside a womb has the same rights that the mother has who conceived him. God will not hold a nation or church guiltless who violates His moral law.
            Suicide. To take one’s own life is a form of murder. If murder is the premeditated taking of the life of an image bearer without Biblical justification, then to commit suicide is to commit self-murder. Apart from all arguments about “quality of life” and whether someone should have the right to end their own life comes this simple but hard truth: God is the Author and Taker of life. To assume that role as a human being is to assume the role of God and usurp the authority that should be reserved for Him alone.

            War. Much has been made among Christians about what constitutes a “just” war. I believe that it is safe to say that not every conflict that the United States has engaged in has been “just” in the Biblical sense of the term. While I only really see self-defense as a genuine justification for war in Scripture (with coming to the defense of another as falling into that category), I don’t see many other reasons for going to war that God would endorse. It would be my contention that to attack another nation through invasion is to commit murder on a grand scale (see Nazi Germany and its WWII allies). While some of the United States’ wars have been questionable, and aspects of some of them may have fallen into this category, my purpose here is not to lay a guilt trip on anyone who has served in our armed forces at any point in our nation’s history. It is rather to encourage every young man and woman who would consider enlisting to “count the cost” and understand that should they be asked to enter a war that is not just, there is no excuse before God for taking life wrongfully. No man will be able to stand before God and state that he was “just following orders.” The decision to kill must be weighed with much consideration and prayer!

            A Note on the Positive Side. Could I encourage you in this area? Maybe you have an abortion in your past. Maybe some things happened to you as a veteran that you’re not proud of. Understand that no sin is outside of the forgiveness and mercy of the Divine Lawgiver. When sin is claimed and repented of, forgiveness and grace are offered. What you did in a panic when that pregnancy test came back positive can be wiped from the slate and made right with a Holy God. There are always consequences from sin, but the guilt and judgment that come from having violated one of God’s moral laws can be wiped clean! Please contact me for more information on this! For others who have not taken life….share with others the value that God places on human life! Teach you children and anyone who will listen about how important they are to God. In a world of first person shooters and movies filled with meaningless killing, we have dropped the importance of life to an all time historical low. But that can change! If we will attune our thinking to God’s thinking, we will see the world, including His prize creation, with the same eyes that He see it with: fallen, broken, sinful, but well worth preserving and redeeming!

I’d love to interact on this subject or any others through this blog (by leaving a comment below) or my email: pastorbrian@hughes.net. God Bless!!!

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