The Sixth Commandment The Ten Commandments Series: Part 6
The sixth commandment is blessedly simple: “You shall not murder.” Most of us memorized this commandment in the King James Version: “Thou shalt not kill.” Looking at the Ten Commandments, these Ten Words, we are reminded that these are words addressed to Israel, God's chosen people and the covenant nation. These are words that even now, as we read these words as Christians and as a part of the Christian church, instruct us and guide us. The Holy Spirit uses these words not only to instruct us and to illuminate us, but also to shape our hearts. Even as those who are no longer living under the law (the law addressed to Israel in the covenant of old), we live under the law of Christ—a liberating law. A law that (as we shall see) will take us even deeper into the heart of murder than the act of murder itself.
There is a crisis in today's church, and that crisis can in a large part be traced to the fact that the church is untaught concerning the law of God—concerning not only the precepts of the law of God but also the larger truths and urgencies that lie behind those precepts, as indicators of what covenant faithfulness looks like on the part of a people who owe their very existence to their Creator.
We do now come to the second table of the law. And often in summary form, as the Ten Commandments are explained, injury is done to these last five commandments by suggesting that the simplicity of interpretation comes down to the fact that the first five commands have to do with our relationship with God and the second five commands with our relationship with our fellow human beings—men and women. The injury there is to the fact that our responsibility to our fellow human beings is entirely grounded in our relationship with God! It is indeed because of our fidelity to God's law, it is because of our submission to God's sovereignty, and it is because of our knowledge of God's purposes that we see human beings in an entirely different light.
This is such a radical truth that without the first five commandments—without the first table of the law—everything we know in the second table of the law is continuously and ruinously negotiable. And we see that process of negotiation in the world around us. If you take away the first five commandments, everything that follows can be redefined and renegotiated. The frame of reference is no longer transcendent, but merely temporal, and human life has nothing to claim for human dignity other than what we humans will choose to ascribe to it.
But we do not read these commandments, and we do not read the sixth commandment without having been taught and instructed by the first five. And thus, we understand that it is our responsibility to God our Creator that then summons us to these next five commandments as a picture and a reminder and a clear teaching of how we must relate to each other if we are to glorify God. If we are to have no other God before him. If we are to make no pagan image we would substitute for him. If we are indeed to honour him and give him his due.
The simplicity of this commandment begins the second table of the law. “You shall not murder.” This original context in the covenant people of God meant that Israel's first responsibility was not to murder a fellow Israelite. There were particular laws related to this. Because in the first, and perhaps most important, level of Israel's immediate concern, these were those who were joined together in covenant with God. And yet, because of the Imago Dei, because of the image of God in which all human beings are made, this commandment is then universalized to all human beings, whom we have no right to murder.
This text is often described in terms of reverence for life. Albert Schweitzer in the twentieth century wrote a book by that title, and became well-known as a humanitarian, as well as a theologian, a biblical scholar, an organist and Renaissance man of his time. His idea of reverence for life was very popular, especially during a time when in the twentieth century so little reverence for life was shown. But we should note that as we gather as Christians to read this commandment, this is not about a generalized or generic reverence for life. This is about reverence for life made in the image of God, with the dignity and the worth of that life grounded in the Creator rather than in the creature. When we try to speak of a reverence for life just in terms of a horizontal human, secular, naturalistic understanding of reverence for life, pretty quickly we end up talking about a reverence for certain kinds of life and for certain kinds of human beings. And we follow a logic that leads to death.
This is explicitly about our duty to God. This very short commandment gets speedily to the point: “You shall not murder.” “Ratsach,” used thirteen times in the Bible, very clearly here refers to the fact that we are forbidden to murder each other. To kill unauthorized with malice. But this verb also can be extended to manslaughter, or unintentional homicide that is negligent in its form. And we shall see that the Scripture speaks to both of these in terms of our responsibility and culpability.
The Relevance of this Commandment
A lot of preachers have difficulty with this particular commandment. The difficulty comes down to the fact that the other nine commands seem to be so universally applicable to human temptations and human realities. And yet, when we look at “Thou shalt not murder,” it is very easy to think ourselves distant from this particular commandment. It is very easy for us to abstract this commandment so that it no longer has the bite and the kind of command and sense of authority and of immediate address to us as do the other nine. How many murderers really are there in our midst? And yet this commandment is addressed to us with no distance. The idea that we are either distant or abstracted from this commandment is false and dangerous, because there is no real distance here and there is no authentic abstraction.
There is no distance, in one sense, because the intentional killing of human beings is taking place all around us. The unauthorized, malicious killing of human beings is taking place—perhaps sight unseen from where we gather today, but nonetheless it is going on all around us all the time. Of course, one indicator of this would be the homicide rates. But another indicator is that which is not reported in the crime statistics but is known to us in the carnage that takes place through abortion and through other forms of the wanton, malicious taking of life.
In the twentieth century we found out that death could be accomplished on a massive scale. Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was national security director for President Jimmy Carter, in his book Out of Control about the twentieth century, suggested that that century now past was the century best characterized by the word “megadeath.” He tried to bring a quantification, in terms of his own experience—fleeing from what became Eastern Europe and then becoming an American citizen, and then a high ranking authority in foreign and national security policy in the White House—and tried to chronicle the actual scale of carnage in the twentieth century. And using very objective numbers, he suggested that four human beings alone could be blamed for 175 million deaths: Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. Easily 175 million dead. And the twentieth century murder mayhem, carnage, was expanded on such a large scale that it truly seems to defy our imagination! The figure of 175 million deaths attributable and traceable to only those four names is equivalent to a number greater than the population of the United Kingdom and France combined! About two-thirds of the population of the United States in the twentieth century!
What do we say to this? The twentieth century leaves memories of murder that can never be forgotten. Even now still living are some of those who were the youngest survivors of the death camps. There are human beings alive now—fewer in number each year—who have stencilled numbers on the inside of their forearm that marked them for death. We are the successors of a century that learned how to kill on such a massive scale. It is not only the Holocaust and the death camps, but the killing fields of Cambodia, the killing fields of Rwanda and the Sudan. An entire industry of death! The twentieth century saw the development of a new language to try to come to terms with this: words like “genocide” that did not exist prior to the century now past.
Erik Hobsbawm, the historian, in his book The Age of Extremes speaks of what he calls the “short twentieth century” between basically WWI and the fall of the Berlin Wall—a massive social transformation in the entire world picture. But he says the one thing most notable about this, as he writes with a great deal of pessimism, is that it was the age of sheer catastrophe and ritualized, industrial-scale death. Winston Churchill himself, at the end of WWI, remarked on the fact that those who were involved in the leadership of that war on both sides basically came to such a point of desperation that they stopped short almost of nothing. They gassed each other, they killed each other on a massive scale by the millions. And most of those who died were young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty. He said they held back from themselves only ritualistic torture—and who wonders, had the war not ended, how long that would have been withheld?
We consider ourselves sophisticated people. As did Europeans in the early twentieth century, thinking themselves the most civilized people and culture that had ever yet existed, and yet what they did was to perfect killing. It tells us a great deal about what it means to live in a world this side of Genesis 3. We understand that even in our society there is murder on the streets. Violent death is a feature of our life. It is a leading story on our news. It is a leading cause of death for young males, especially for those (in this society) in certain ethnic groups and cultural contexts.
And yet it is not just that; it is also murder on the screen. The average American child, by reaching the age of eighteen, has seen something like 80 to 100 thousand murders depicted on television and film and in video games! The video games, by the way, are adding up the carnage faster than any form of electronic medium. Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, who taught marksmanship for the United States Army, was called upon to suggest why young boys who had never fired a real gun before could walk into a high school and kill with military precision. He pointed out that the video games were turning young American males into trained killers, with an instinct with the trigger and with an eye for an aim unlike anything any military force had ever seen before. Never having shot a gun in malice, they can accomplish murder with military precision. We are making this so routine that murder is now something that is expected. It is no longer taken with great moral seriousness; it is merely the pretext for the drama yet to unfold on the screen or the story to be replayed thousands and thousands of times over with the game piece in the hand. There is no distance.
But the most important reason why we must recognize that there is no distance with this issue is what we really do not want to admit to each other today: and that is that we are not distant from this command because we really are capable of this. It is very easy for us to say we would never resort to violence, certainly not to lethal force. And for most of us that is probably true. But would it be true under circumstances we cannot yet now envision? Would it be true if we really knew our own hearts as our Creator knows our hearts? There is no distance.
There is also no abstraction. Many preachers when they get to this commandment try to make it into something like the Golden Rule: “Murder not, that thou not be murdered.” Some will even try to make this into such a generalized prescription for benevolence towards our fellow human beings—a commandment for a generalized spirit of good feelings. But that is not what the commandment is about! When the Lord wrote these words on tablets of stone, “murder” he wrote. It is murder that is the issue.
Now, here we encounter a controversy. How shall this commandment be translated and interpreted? It does seem simple enough, and yet we have two different major translations and traditions in the English translation heritage. There is that of the King James Version we memorized: ”Thou shalt not kill”; and then of more modern translations: “You shall not murder.” “Ratsach” means murder and manslaughter. As Driver says, it means “violent and unauthorized killing.”
The Context of this Commandment
We need to approach this with theological candour and with Christian honesty. We need to admit to each other that there is a great deal of killing in the Bible. We also need to admit to each other with candour that God is doing a great deal of the killing. This is a blood-drenched book. In the Old Testament, there is killing by war and by execution. The Bible, in its honesty, speaks of these things with such directness. We understand that God's holiness is incompatible with human sinfulness. God's choosing of Israel is incompatible with those who would destroy God's covenant people and forbid them God's covenant promises. God is described in the Old Testament in so many ways, but he is a God of war. And thus, in the Old Testament, there is authorized killing. As a matter of fact, there is commanded killing, coming down most particularly to the two categories of war and capital punishment.
Now here you face a question of your own theological integrity and your own spiritual courage. You either believe this or not. You either believe in the inspiration and inerrancy of the Old Testament text or you believe that this is merely a corruption of some ancient peoples understanding of a violent and cruel God. Those are your options.
Several years ago, delivering a series of lectures at one of our sister seminaries, a major Southern Baptist pastor (and this was before the large changes in the Southern Baptist Convention, and this is an indication of why those changes were necessary) stood up before students at our sister seminary and (now infamously) declared, “The God who commanded the destruction of the Amalekites is not the same God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Well, if not, we are in big trouble! Let's understand that this is the Word of God, and it is for our good and for our instruction that we know this. And the God who save sinners through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is a God who has avenged his own name and his own glory with the taking of blood!
Those who suggest that it should be translated “Thou shalt not kill” are looking for a universal command that would lead to a prohibition against capital punishment and a negotiation of our understanding of the rules of war. What are those rules of war? What do we say when we follow the One described as the Prince of Peace? Well for one thing, we had better read the New Testament as well as the Old, because if your problem is killing, to be very honest there is more eschatological death yet to come that is revealed in the New Testament than anything accumulated in the Old Testament and in all the centuries of human experience since then! God is not a pacifist. He is holy.
Now, lest we assume from that that we have the same warrant to kill as does he, let us be reminded that God is in heaven and we are not. Therefore let our words be few and let our obedience to his command be humble.
What do we say about war? When we read the Bible clearly, war was a part of God's plan for the conquests of the holy land, the land of promise. And war throughout human experience has been a perpetual necessity. Historians have been engaged in various seminars and debates and arguments over whether or not at any time in the history of humanity there has been a state of peace. With a Eurocentric worldview, historians of the nineteenth century tried to point back to a relatively few number of years when Europe was at peace. But again, that peace did not mean there was no killing whatsoever—even state-sponsored killing. It meant that there was no nation state that was currently in a declared state of war with one of its neighbours. Again, the twentieth century is instructive: every single year a war somewhere, and two great World Wars that brought the entire globe into a conflagration.
The Christian church has had to try to deal with this, and thus the development of what is known as Just War theory, as Christians have tried to think through, “If war is going to happen, and if sometimes war is the least worst option, we must understand as Christians that there has to be some kind of rubric for moral reasoning that would enable us to know that this is an authorized war and this would be unauthorized.” And thus, Just War theory covers such issues as how a war would be declared just before it is fought and then how a war would be justly prosecuted after it has been rightly declared. Just War theory requires such things as the fact that a legitimate authority declare the war. Prior to that, it requires that the war be defensive rather than offensive. You can follow through all of these understandings. All previous things having been tried, war becomes the only option that will actually save more lives than take lives. And you start looking at a moral calculus even before the war has begun. And you really realize how difficult it is!
Then you look at Just War theory in terms of the actual conduct and prosecution of the war, and you understand the responsibility to have legitimate authority that discriminates between combatants and non-combatants. Then you look at the twentieth century and you say, “Whatever this is, it does not perfectly fit our experience anymore!” The discrimination between combatants and non-combatants has become a near impossibility! Or we might say that in the twentieth century, states decided that it was a luxury they could no longer afford.
And it is very easy for us. Even in thinking of a warlike WWII, when we look back to that and we understand the menace of Hitler and we understand the necessity of ending his plans for world domination. We know more now about why Hitler had to be stopped than even Americans did in 1941 when Hitler declared war on us and when we decided to make the European theatre the first priority rather than victory in the Pacific theatre. We know now about Treblinka and Birkenau. We know now about things that the Americans did not know when the war started, and there is controversy about how much was known when the war ended. But we do know this: we too decided to blur the distinction between combatants and non-combatants in war! Ask the citizens of Hamburg, rained upon by millions of tons of bombs from the Eighth Air Force. Ask the citizens of Dresden, one of those cultured cities in Europe, and (tragically for America's moral memory) a city of relatively little military significance. It was crushed under the incendiary weight of millions of tons of bombs. More persons were killed in the streets of those cities by mere incendiary bombs than were killed by the nuclear detonations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!
In the twentieth century, the idea of strategic bombing began to make sense. “We will break the enemy's industrial capacity, and thus his ability and will to fight.” But that meant not only destroying factories, but the cities around those factories and the people who worked within those factories. The aged and the infants along with the workers and their wives. I am glad that Hitler's Third Reich was ground into the dust. I am thankful that Allied forces defeated the forces of the Axis powers, and especially the Third Reich. But we cannot look back even to that war—as necessary as it was, the least worst option under the circumstances—and think that we emerged from that war with our hands clean! So too with the War on Terror, what former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld calls “asymmetrical warfare.”
How does Just War theory rightly apply to this? How does Just War theory—in terms of how war would be developed and lethal force would be authorized and then how it would be prosecuted—work when every single teenager with a backpack can be a suicide bomber? “Thou shalt not murder.” We need to recognize just how difficult it is to have our hands clean of murder, even though we think ourselves immune and clear.
Capital punishment is also authorized in the Bible. Explicitly in the Old Testament, where there are over a dozen offenses that the Lord declares to be worthy of death. And by the way, capital punishment is ordered under those circumstances. There is no doubt; there can be no evasion here. We also need to recognize (even as the text from Deuteronomy 29 was read earlier today) that there is significant protection built in for the people of Israel, lest a false accusation would lead to a false execution, a wrongful death. As a matter of fact, the protections built in for those in Israel who were charged with murder—a capital offense—exceeded those and now exceed those of the western legal tradition. The capital punishment is not an abstract issue in the Bible. It is dealt with honestly. Not only in the Old Testament but in the New. In Romans 13:4 we are told that the governing authorities “do not bear the sword in vain.” There is no way around what that text is telling us. Capital punishment is a part of God's plan.
And then we are also told that this is so (as Genesis 9:6 tells us) because in the Noahic covenant we read, “Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God he made him.” Now here again we are reminded that murder is so awful (murder in particular being matched with a sentence of death) not because we are so valuable and not because of some generalized reverence for life, but because every single human being is made in the image of God. And thus murder is an insult to God! Murder deprives God of one who was made in his image for his glory. Murder is the subtraction—the arrogant, wilful subtraction—of God's glory and the capacity for the display of God's glory in the midst of his creation. And in particular, even though that would be true of ravaging a forest or of burning a garden or of desecrating nature, far more when the one who is killed bears the image of God! It is a personal attack upon the dignity of the Creator.
Because we are made in the image of God—every single human being made in the image of God, at every single stage of life made in the image of God—we respond with reverence for life. Not because of life, but we respond with reverence for life because of reverence for God. The imago dei—every single human being made in the image of God. The killer or the murderer thus becomes the image destroyer. The taker of the gift of life. We speak of murder primarily in the western legal tradition of a harm to the victim—the victim's friends and family and circle of acquaintances. But in the Scripture the main harm is not to the victim, nor to the victim's friends and family, but rather to the dignity of God himself! The Old Testament is filled with references to blood guilt—“ratsach.”
The Interpretation of this Commandment
What do we say to this? Well, there are some who want to go back and say that we must now reinterpret this commandment to be a generalized statement about reverence for life and about the fact that all killing is wrong—capital punishment is wrong, war in all circumstances (even self-defence) is wrong. Every once in a while you just have to see such an argument to believe it. And then you wonder how in the world they could arrive at such conclusions, and then you follow their argument and it is just as you suspected.
I have here with me a book “You Shall Not Kill” or “You Shall Not Murder”: The Assault on a Biblical Text. It is by Wilma Ann Bailey, who teaches at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. My curiosity was immediately raised when I saw this book. I wanted to know how it was that she would come to argue that it should be “You shall not kill” rather than “You shall not murder.” And I wanted to see especially how she dealt with the fact that in the canonical witness of Scripture, in the Old Testament itself, there are very clear references to war and capital punishment as not only allowed but commanded by God. So how can you say that all these things are wrong? Well, you have to come up with some kind of canon within the canon, and you know how this game is played. Sometimes it is instructive to hear it or to read it just to be reminded of the game plan.
Some who reject a “kill” translation of Exod 20:13 think that “the Bible” as it exists today was one entity in ancient times. The Bible in the opinion of most modern critical scholars is not a single unified entity, but a collection of diverse materials with diverse theological viewpoints. The ancient Israelites struggled with questions of how to understand God and God’s relationship with humankind. Modern scholars generally reject attempts at harmonizing texts in favor of placing them in their own contexts, whether literary, historical, sociological, or theological.
Yes, a killing theology emerges in some texts, but those texts need not theologically trump non-killing texts. Even where a penalty of death is stated in the Bible, often the question of who, if anyone, is to carry out the penalty is vague. Many modern commentators place that authority in the hands of the state or the nation even though such entities did not exist in ancient times and would not have been in the mind of the biblical author. Moreover, biblically speaking, if God reserves the right to kill, this does not mean that humans have the same right. The infamous phrase from Gen 9:6, “the one who sheds the blood of a human, by a human his blood will be shed,” is nearly always read as a command for capital punishment. More likely this is a reflection on the escalation of violence. The way of bloodshed only leads to more bloodshed. This statement need not be read as a command. No imperative is used.
Where is the entire argument about the Imago Dei? It, in her logic, becomes the logic of further murder!
“Scripture interprets Scripture” proponents also point to the books of Joshua and Judges as proof that killing is permitted in the Hebrew Bible. This is particularly disturbing. Few scholars, rabbis, or pastors point to those books as models of appropriate behavior. Indeed, the critique that appears at the end of Judges: “In those days there was no king in Israel Everyone did what was right in his [or her] eyes” appears to be an ancient criticism of the violence and mayhem described earlier in that book, and perhaps in the book of Joshua as well.
Further, people tend to assume that, according to the Bible, God commanded a battle or killing when in fact the text never indicates that God had anything to do with the killing…
Moreover, within the Bible there are summary statements of ethical principles that in the mind of some biblical traditions are superior to other guidelines.Wilma Bailey, 2005, pp 22-23
There you go: A canon within the canon. You take Genesis 20:13 and you turn it into something it is not, and you consciously and straightforwardly use it to invalidate other biblical texts! And you end up with a word that fits neither the context of ancient Israel nor the text of Scripture. But this is a logic that many in the church are ready to accept. “Thou shalt not kill” does not refer to a blanket prohibition against killing, but rather to unauthorized killing which becomes the image destroyer, the denier of God's glory, through murder or manslaughter (negligent in its form). The devaluation of human life.
By the way, this issue of negligent homicide is very important. Just be reminded that in Israel there is even a warning that is found in Deuteronomy 22:8 that if you are building a house you need to put a parapet around the roof, lest anyone fall from the roof and “you bring the guilt of bloodshed upon your house.” No malice there towards any particular individual, because that would be homicide (murder in the first degree). But rather, it is negligence and homicide, and perhaps even antipathy toward the entire human race by that negligence. Those who would fail to save a life or to protect a life, according to this biblical logic, thus take a life (if anyone is to die).
Now, the commandment begins to come into focus. We begin to understand how this sixth commandment functioned in ancient Israel. We begin to understand that it was a rule against the taking of human life that was not explicitly authorized by God. As one recent commentator has said, one of the scariest things we hear these days from some people in the church is that it is dangerous to kill in the name of God. This commentator says we should be far more afraid of any killing that is not in the name of God, because only that killing which he would allow or command is legitimate. Everything else is an affront to his dignity and a denial of his glory through the destruction of his image or the wanton, wilful, intentional attempt to destroy that image in another human being.
And yet, as we read this commandment today, the historical analysis is important, the textual analysis is important, but we read these words as Christians. And thus, we cannot read Exodus without reading Matthew. We cannot read the Ten Commandments without the Sermon on the Mount. And there we are reminded of the formula that is so often found in Matthew 5: where Jesus says, “You have heard that the ancients were told…but I say unto you.” Let’s be reminded in Matthew 5, as Jesus introduces this major section in the Sermon on the Mount, he says:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 5:17-19, NASB
Not to annul but to fulfil! What does that look like?
You have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not commit murder” and “Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, “You good-for-nothing,” shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, “You fool,” shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.Matthew 5:21-22, NASB
We said there is no distance between ourselves and this commandment, and now we understand. The sixth commandment seemed comfortably distant from us if all that was really at stake was the actual premeditated murder of another human being. The reality is very few of us (thanks be to God), by the restraining power of God's law and God's grace, are actually going to know that. The numbers are horribly and grotesquely huge, but the reality is that this is not something on a daily basis most of us find is a personal struggle. Until we read Matthew 5! Where now it is no longer a matter merely of the external taking of knife or club or stone or gun, but it is anger and hatred.
By the way, if you carefully read the Old Testament you will understand that even in the Old Testament murder is described in terms of a root of hatred and anger. But Jesus now takes this even deeper. Now, as we are under the law of Christ, we come to understand that it is not like all of a sudden we are freed from the law; it is now that we bear the knowledge that our heart is a murderous heart! And even as we could probably safely say (not because of our goodness but because of God's restraint) murder is blessedly unlikely in so many of our circles, we know that hatred and anger lurk all too close to us in the human heart. Admitting that is a good thing. But I say unto you: we cannot even call people names—not out of malice and hatred—that would deny the dignity of those at whom we would hurl such words.
Now, Jesus himself will later in the Gospels refer to persons as fools. It is the heart that is the issue here rather than the word. It is the heart that would jump all too quickly from irritation to anger to hatred to murder. In the Old Testament all you had to do to steer clear of the sixth commandment was to show a basic respect for life, never to murder, nor to allow negligent homicide under your responsibility. But when we read Matthew 5 we are in big trouble. We understand that human anger is also such a complex thing. In some persons it burns so hot and others it seems so cold. In some it is like something ready to strike out all the time; in others it is there to lay in wait. In our falleness on this side of Genesis 3 it is there. This commandment of Christ found in the Sermon on the Mount interiorizes this and thus radicalizes the command. And we understand that not only are we under responsibility to Genesis 9:6 and to Exodus 20:13, but to Matthew 5:21-22 in the Sermon on the Mount.
We also need to respect and understand and admit our corporate responsibility. Israel is at times in the Old Testament described as bearing corporately a blood guilt. And if that be so of Israel, it must be so also of those of us would ignore the carnage around us—the carnage of abortion. 40 million Americans unborn killed in the womb. Now routinized under the moral logic of personal autonomy and a woman's right to choose, and now even encouraged as a matter of public health, with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in recent days suggesting that all pregnant women need to be tested for Down Syndrome and the indicators and the indicators in the foetus, the obvious implication being that the right thing to do would be to destroy the foetus in the womb.
We are facing a whole new reality, when we live surrounded by clinics with hundreds of thousands of frozen human embryos even now being destroyed either by active malice or by passive allowance through the cariogenic freezing of these embryos, eventually to be destroyed and to crumble. Now again, we have a very difficult question here. If that embryo is not a human being, if it does not possess full human dignity, then where along the continuum of that embryo until the end of life and elderly stages would you ascribe human dignity? Once again, when you begin to negotiate the image of God you join in the logic of death. We live not only in the age of megadeath, but we also need to notice we live in the age of microdeath—death taking place all around us, even at the microscopic level, where human dignity is routinely denied.
We live in the age in which the German medical precept of Lebensunwerten Lebens is being lived out among us, “life unworthy of life.” We are now deciding as a society: “This life is worthy of life; this life is not worthy of life.” End of life decisions where these issues are being debated. And then euthanasia, where there are many in our society who now demand a “good death,” which amounts to state allowance for murder. We live in an age of megadeath and microdeath. We understand that we cannot live in a society like this without sharing in the blood guilt. We understand that this is represented in the murder statistics of this nation, and we understand that the blood of the innocent cries out! The cold case files are not for television dramas. They are to remind us that there will come a day when every sin will be laid bare and every sinner will be made visible and God's justice will be fully executed. On that day, we as Christians know what even in Israel they did not know: none of us is safe from the guilt of the sixth commandment.
The sixth commandment points us towards reverence for life, yes, but not for the sake of life itself, but because of the Creator. But the sixth commandment also points us to our desperate need for the grace and mercy of God, shown us in Jesus Christ, who bore in himself the malice and the hatred and the murderous intention of humanity and gave his life for sinners, shedding his blood for the remission of our sins. We read this commandment as Christians. It is addressed to us. Judgment be upon us if we hear it as addressed to someone else.