|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Respect Life
Ex 20:13 You shall not murder.
Because of the modern media, rarely a week passes by without us hearing of a violent death. The call to not murder is thus highly relevant and in a complex age, it is not always easy to be specific. From the family, the Law moves to laws for society, the way we interact with other people. We need to deal with a confusion straight away. It is NOT, “You shall not kill”. If it was it would contradict a variety of other verses in the Law. For instance IN WAR, Israel were commanded by God to kill all the enemy forces – simply to stop come-back. When Israel first entered the Land at God's command, the choice for the people of Canaan was either to leave, to join Israel, or to die. Killing was a legitimate action under those circumstances. In SOCIAL LAW killing was a requirement for a number of serious crimes, i.e. capital punishment was a legitimate means of punishment. The death penalty was at God's instruction. Then there was ACCIDENTAL KILLING, which we would refer to as manslaughter. Where it was a legitimate accident then the penalty was strictly limited, which we'll see in later laws.
In each of these cases there was killing that was not murder. Murder was purposeful killing of another human being under circumstances not covered by one of the above three categories. It is killing that is not part of war, not capital punishment and not accidental. Is every other form of killing murder? In the case of terrorism, killing a terrorist who is out to kill you before he can kill you has perhaps become another form of war – war without borders. Similarly the police killing a man brandishing a gun or a bomb, whether he is mentally unstable or not, is usually considered in our society as legitimate. In all of these cases killing (which is not murder) is surely the last thing that any civilised society wants, but in a Fallen World where sin and evil prevail, killing to prevent more killings is a sadly acceptable option, indeed often the only apparent option.
The foundation for the sanctity of life is found in the early chapters of Genesis: “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” (Gen 9:4-6). Life is special because it comes from God. Human beings are special because they have been made in the image of God.
Because of this we are required to be very careful about how we take life. Although war may be legitimate to protect against an evil, we should do everything we possibly can before we go to war, to prevent it. The history of the First World War suggests that a number of friendships or pacts between nations unwisely meant nation after nation joining in what became one of the most horrific blood baths in history. Yet history also suggests that Neville Chamberlain was naïve to think he could hold back the might of Germany with a piece of paper prior to the beginning of the Second World War. Were such wars the judgment of God or the glory of Satan? We may only know the answer when we get to heaven.
In many Western nations capital punishment has been ruled out, which may be an indication that in reality we don't honour life sufficiently. Capital punishment, as we'll see in future meditations, was used to prevent the spread of sin. The argument against capital punishment is often stated as, it doesn't act as a deterrent, but the truth is that it does for most people. The thought of being put to death for taking a life purposefully may not be a deterrent for everyone but it is for many. We have strange views about death. We are happy for police to kill killers on the run and we are happy to allow our soldiers to kill enemy combatants, but we don't like capital punishment because of the thoroughly unpleasant ways that we presently use to kill the offender – so we don't. A bullet through the head would be painless and instant but we reject that. We resist capital punishment for another reason to do with sinful mankind: the police may have tampered with evidence, manufactured evidence or suppressed evidence. The number of cases where on appeal (possibly years later) evidence is found ‘unsafe' and the sentence quashed, is worrying, but it is a symptom of a Fallen World.
The question of abortion hinges entirely on whether we consider a foetus a human life. If it is, then we are committing hundreds of thousands of murders every year and will have to account to God for that. The question of voluntary euthanasia hinges on whether you believe “You shall not murder” includes killing yourself. Yet even here it is not a clear picture. If by medicines and machines we are prolonging a human life, and that beyond reasonable lengths, is it murder to stop taking the medicine or turn off the machine? In modern life, the ethics of death are not always clear.
Although there may be many shades of grey in modern life, the injunction is still one of the shortest and simplest in life: “You shall not murder.” It is a demand to respect human life and perhaps we might say, in the light of modern news accounts, we should be duty bound to do all we can to avoid getting into situations where a life may be taken violently, and so the carrying of weapons of any kind should be discouraged strongly. TV and video and computer games have made the taking of life a mundane thing. We almost take it for granted, and then are surprised at the number of lives that are taken in modern society. Perhaps, again, it is a measure of how little we value or worry about the loss of human life, that we really do so little to avoid violent deaths in the modern world. One day we might wake up and do something to change this.