Summary: The commandment not to kill is also a commandment to make peace.
By Rev Bill Stewart
Chris said last week that the first five focus on Loving God while the final five Commandments deal with Loving our neighbour. The Sixth Commandment says very simply: "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). Our translation "murder" makes it clear that what is forbidden by the Commandment is the intentional taking of human life without any just cause.
How many of you seen the most recent Worksafe TV advertisements which begins with a dad coming home to find his teenage daughter and her boyfriend sitting on the couch doing their "homework"? Then we hear the voiceover saying: "His best reason for workplace safety is about to be grounded". Another Worksafe ad has a young boy bouncing a ball outside his house waiting for his Dad to come home from work. (None of them seem to involve Mum’s coming home from work, but we’d better not get into that now!) What are those ads trying to say? Aren’t they trying to remind people of the real point of the Worksafe laws? That the laws aren’t trying to restrict people’s freedom but to make sure they get home to their families in one piece!
Very early in the book of Genesis, God tells Noah and his sons:
"Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind." (Genesis 9:6)
[Principle 1] From a Christian perspective the reason that human life is so valuable because people have a special relationship with God. We were made to be God’s image in the world. What’s really wrong with the intentional taking of human life is that it involves destroying an image of God. Have you ever thought of it that way before? From a Christian perspective we can make a distinction between human life and animal and plant life – not that I’m suggesting this is any excuse for mistreating animals or misusing plants. The uniqueness of human life has huge implications for how we understand the world and our place in it.
In a recent book on the Ten Commandments by pastor Colin Smith, he suggests that the Bible’s teaching about the uniqueness of human life speaks to issues such as abortion, euthanasia and suicide. But Smith also goes on to point out how in today’s NT reading from Matthew, chapter 5, Jesus related this principle back to more common human experiences like anger, hatred, insults and gossip.
No one in their right mind would attempt to deal with these issues in a single sermon. What I would like to do this morning is not just to reflect on the struggle to respect human life and live peacefully with each other. I think what is most helpful about Smith’s book is that in his writing on the sixth Commandment he draws our attention to the way in which Jesus acted as a "peacemaker" and how he crossed boundaries of division and conflict in the world in which he lived. As I was writing this sermon I realised that I could describe my own decision to continue in the Christian faith as an adult as having resulted from my struggle for peace. So in a few minutes time I’m going to ask you to indulge me as I tell you a little bit about that experience. Some of you may have had a similar experience.
But before we do that let’s go back to the beginning in Genesis, for a moment where the Bible establishes a basic pro-life principle. I wouldn’t want to pretend that this principle answers in black and white every aspect of the very difficult ethical problems we sometimes face with issues like abortion (taking the life of an unborn neighbour) or euthanasia (taking the life of an elderly or infirm neighbour). What I do believe it does is give us a basic orientation as Christians. In terms of the compass it shows us where to find "true north".
What happens if we apply this basic principle that human life is valuable to the issue of abortion, for instance? Some things seem to be clear and others more difficult. Clearly, what our society calls "abortion on demand" is wrong in principle because it involves intentionally taking the life of an unborn child who is created in the image of God. Psalm 139 says:
For it was you [God] who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb... My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret... In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them yet existed" (verses 13-16).
Unborn children are in relationship with God from their conception. "This not a potential life, but it is a life with all kinds of potential" (Smith 2006, p. 83). Having said this there are situations in which, if a life or lives are taken, many other lives may be saved. Some Christians would disagree but I personally believe that when only one of two lives can be saved, the Christian obligation to preserve life may actually lead us to consider an abortion; but only as a last resort in extreme circumstances. For parents who have lost a child through miscarriage or had an abortion, it may be comforting to know that God’s care for individual human lives begins at conception, so even the youngest lives lost to us are not lost to God!