Sixth commandment

ďYou shall not killĒ

In the original language, the word for kill uses a word translated as murder. However, in Deuteronomy 22:8, God commands a person to build a parapet around his roof so he would not be guilty of bloodshed. This indicates that premeditated murder is not the only kind of killing forbidden. Negligence towards life also incurs guilt. Therefore, using the word kill instead of murder is an accurate expression of the intent of the command.

You were introduced to the teaching that human beings are made in Godís image. What significance does this truth have? A king in ancient times would leave statues of himself in certain places to show that he is the one who rules that place. In the same way, God put images of himself in his creation to show that he is the ruler of creation. All human life from the unborn to the elderly, the disabled, the criminal, is created in Godís image. There are no exceptions. The teaching that humans are made in the image of God is the basis for the 6th commandment.

How are images to be treated? They are to be treated with respect. Imagine somebody tearing up a picture of a certain person. Wouldnít that be considered disrespectful to the person who is represented in that picture? In the same way, Godís images must not be torn down through disrespect. That is disrespect towards God. Killing is the worst kind of disrespect towards Godís image.

Treating others with respect could be hard. People may have hurt us and/or they have shown themselves to be very bad people. I understand the struggle. However, we must remember that even those who do bad things are made in Godís image. They still have goodness in them, even though it does not seem to show. You probably have good memories of those people who have hurt you. It is fine to remember the good times along with the bad. That can be a start of coming to grips with your past. Hopefully they would someday acknowledge the bad things they have done and ask you for forgiveness. Anger is normal but anger can also be wrong (See note 1).

It is right to be angry at people committing violence towards other people, including us. We are made in Godís image and God gets angry at violence. We get angry when something is threatened; our safety, our self-image, our vision of how people should be treated. Every time you are angry, think about why you are angry or what is being threatened. Right anger is anger that reflects what God cares about. Your anger at violence is a reflection of Godís anger.

Sometimes anger is just wrong. For example, you may be angry at people who seem to be unable to understand things as well as you do. Your anger could be a show of contempt towards the one who is, in some way, weaker than you. Looking at a person with hatred or indifference, wanting something bad to happen to them or not caring about what happens to them, is a violation of the sixth commandment.

You can call contempt frustration but frustration happens when the fulfillment of your desires is being threatened. If anger is just about wanting things to go your way, not about being treated with respect, then it is wrong anger. It is wrong anger because it is an expression of a desire to have things your way.

The foundation of the sixth commandment is respect for Godís image. Respect is showing regard for somebody. Here are some ways this commandment is violated besides killing someone intentionally.

  1. Cursing, threatening, and insulting others for any reason. Jesus considers these actions killing them in your heart (Matthew 5:21-22). Even if you do not act on your threats, the thought is in your mind and the murderous feeling is in your heart. Even when you are rightfully angry, you should not indulge those thoughts and feelings.
  2. Having a dismissive attitude (avoiding, making steps not to interact, etc.), towards others because of who they are; their personalities, culture, etc. or because of their weaknesses. Excluding others by treating them as if they do not exist, or not worth interacting with, is a violation of the sixth commandment.
  3. Not making steps to keep others around us safe. A simple example is to warn others that the floor is wet after mopping the floor. People will probably not die from slipping but we are commanded to prevent others from being harmed. In the bible, there are commands about protecting others from injury (Deuteronomy 22:8). Being reckless about anything we do, so as to open up the potential for injury to others, is a violation of the sixth commandment.

God is the only one who can take away life and that includes our own. That is because creation belongs to God. We have no right to take away the life of the helpless; the unborn, the elderly, the sick, for our convenience. The answer to suffering is not to end life but to ask for Godís presence in the midst of it.

Is there any time that killing would be right? Human life is intrinsically valuable. A personís value does not depend on his beauty, utility, accomplishments, property, etc. A personís value is based on his being made in Godís image. However, this does not mean that preservation of life is the ultimate good. What does this mean?

  1. The early Christians allowed themselves to be killed for their beliefs. This shows that they viewed the preservation of their own life as less important than their loyalty to Christ.
  2. Killing could be an act of mercy, towards oneís self and towards others, when lives are being threatened with immediate violence.
  3. The preservation of life could become an occasion for pain. We have technology to prolong life and I believe there are times when that technology should not be used and a person should be allowed to die comfortably. We should think about a patientís comfort and future when we make a decision to prolong life or not.

What about war? The intention behind a war is important and citizens must closely examine it. I believe that power should only be used to protect the helpless, not to gain benefits for the powerful. Motives are usually mixed when governments choose war. There are both merciful interests like helping the powerless by toppling a violent government, and selfish interests like getting more power for the country by taking more land. Opposing war point blank is not a helpful response to a world where violence is present. Sometimes violence can only be stopped with violence.

God did not intend for people to take each otherís lives. We should never rejoice at the death of people, whether good or bad. Death is an occasion for sorrow. However, we live in a world where there are people who are determined to destroy creation. It is an act of mercy to stop destructive violence, whether perpetrated by armies or criminals. In the process of stopping violence, innocent and guilty suffer. Whether we choose to stop violence or not, people will suffer. In a world with violence, suffering is unavoidable and all we can do is try to lessen the suffering as much as possible.

Who has the right to kill? Even though God has the ultimate authority to take life, scriptures say that he appoints government, which represents the community, to exercise the authority to protect the community from those who would destroy it (Romans 13). As far as individual humans, God did not give that right. Vengeance is left to God, and humans are called to love their enemies (Romans 12:17-21).

Let us go back to the issue of the use of power. Power should not be used for personal gain but to help the powerless. The powerless are those who are dependent on others. We are all powerless in some way because we are dependent on God and others to live. However, there are some people who are more powerless than we are.

You have talents and abilities (your powers) and I encourage you to use them to serve others and not to enrich yourself. A life of service is what all of us are meant for no matter who we are. Our model should be that of Jesus who dedicated his powers to serving those who are powerless, even to the point of death.

The virtue that will help us obey the sixth commandment is mercy. To show mercy is to help people overcome suffering. Actions like feeding the hungry, giving out clothes, helping people find jobs, comforting those who are lonely; they are ways to help people overcome suffering. How can you show mercy? You can help organizations help others by volunteering or donating money to their cause. You may begin by refrain from insulting others, and talking to people you normally avoid. It all starts with remembering that all people, whatever they did and whoever they are, are made in the image of God. To show mercy to the powerless is to serve God (Matthew 25:31-46).

Mercy is also about forgiveness. How can you forgive those that have hurt you? I know it is not going to be easy and God understands your pain. You begin by refraining from wishing to take vengeance on them, or wishing that something bad would happen to them. The goal of forgiveness is not to act as if the wrong did not happen. The wrong did happen and the relationship may never be the same because of it. However, there should be a readiness to show mercy to the offender.

In the bible, God commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). The reason is that God sends rain to help both the godly and the ungodly. God does not withhold good to those that reject him. Godís ultimate show of mercy is sending Jesus to die for those who reject him. Jesus died to redeem them from Godís judgment, the penalty for rejecting God. We reject God when we donít love him above all things and we donít love others as ourselves. Despite our rejection, God expressed mercy to us. We are called to show mercy to those who have wronged us because God is merciful (Matthew 18:21-35).

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean to treat somebody with mercy?
  2. What things do you get angry about?
  3. Is it ever acceptable to end life?

Notes

  1. The premise of the whole book by Lester, A.D. The Angry Christian: A Theology of Care and Counseling (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003).