“You shall not murder.”

~ Exodus 20:13


This reflection will be short.

The 6th command means that we cannot kill anyone. Reflection finished. Any questions?

Oh, if it were only so simple.

Tied for the shortest command of the bunch, these words seem so simple. Do not murder. Easy. Done.

Yet, once we peel back the layers of this command, we realize how complex it actually becomes. Divisive issues in our culture like abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide are wrapped up in these 4 words. What about the death penalty, or killing someone in a war? Both of these God seems to justify in Exodus 21:12-17 and Deuteronomy 20:10-18. Later, in Matthew 5:21-30, Jesus equates hatred to murder, and 1 John 3:15 is even more blunt about that fact. Now we must envelope hate crimes, foreign relations, gossip and issues of social justice into the fold. All of a sudden, this 4-word-sentence doesn’t seem so short.

While we will not be able to dig too deeply into most of these tremendously large issues, we will look at the heart of this command. When we do that, I hope we can undergird our understanding a little more and come away with an appropriate lens with which to look through when approaching these complex issues.

At the heart of this command is the sacredness of life. When Adam and Eve were created, they were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). After the flood, God re-emphasized that mankind is created in His image in His covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:6). Because of this, as J.I. Packer says, “human life is thus the most precious and sacred thing in the world, and to end it, or direct its ending, is God’s prerogative alone. We honor God by respecting his image in each other, which means consistently preserving life and furthering each other’s welfare in all possible ways.”

That is why Jesus can equate hatred, or malice, cruelty, or even bullying to murder. To degrade a life is to degrade God, and to subject another life to cruelty is to subject God to that same end. In many ways, disobeying this sixth command is the antithesis to Jesus’ calling for us to love one another.

Once we see that, we start to read this command a little differently. This command becomes less about us simply not killing someone and more about us loving our neighbour. This new approach has a much more communal feel and far reaching effect.

J.E. Kalas sums this up nicely. He says, “This brief, staccato statement, ‘You shall not murder,’ is intended not only to protect me from the loss of my life; it also protects me from the loss of my neighbor. When my neighbor dies, my life is made smaller. Both my neighbor and I are part of the mainland of life; if my neighbor dies, I am the less, and if I die, my neighbor is, to some degree, impoverished.”

Our Scriptural lens, then, is a communal one. How do we grow closer to one another as image-bearers of God? While the answers to life’s most complex issues are not answered completely by this law of love, this All-Life-is-Sacred-Lens must be used to give us a proper posture when engaging these challenging discussions.

All life is sacred is one absolute truth we must lean into. However, there is a second: God has sovereignty over all. All life is a gift of God, and God has power over all life. That means, while our little minds cannot fully grasp this, God has the ultimate authority over everything, when life starts, when life ends, and everything in between.

Christopher Wright highlights this by saying, “If the [sacredness of life] implies that all life is absolute and inviolable in and of itself, then we will have difficulty with Yahweh’s commands to kill in war or in judicial punishment—as indeed many do. Absolute sanctity would mean it could never be right to take a human life in any circumstances.” He goes on, “Human beings are made in God’s image, an image that no human has the right to destroy without the maker’s authority. But God does have that authority. Human life is a gift from God and belongs to God, and no human has the right to destroy the gift or steal what belongs to God.”

Life is sacred. Life comes from God. We must seek to preserve human life. We also must understand that God has authority over all of it.

And so, sadly this reflection is not long enough to get into every last complex issue that has to do with life and death, or love and hate. But with all of the complexities, we must start with the posture of preserving the sacredness of life, and then go from there.

I originally wanted that to be the end of the reflection. However, it seems a little sheepish for me to hide from some of these complex issues, and it is not my intention to avoid some of those discussions.

In light of this, below I am going to engage some of these bigger topics as best (and succinctly) as I can. If you want to read those, I invite you to do so. If you are happy with landing on the call to remember that all life is sacred and under God’s authority, then feel free to either stop reading or skip to the bottom of this post for some discussion questions.

– – – – –

Using some of the resources at my disposal (with authors like – but not limited to – J.I. Packer, Robert West, Christopher Wright, and J. Ellsworth Kalas), I will happily and succinctly engage some of these ‘hot topic issues.’ Some of my opinions are not fully formed. That’s OK. You may find yourself disagreeing with me on some of my thoughts. That’s also OK. As long as we are looking through the same scriptural lens and using the theological truth that all life is a sacred gift from God to undergird our arguments, there is room for healthy discourse.

With that, here are some thoughts:

Abortion: I believe life starts at conception, and so abortion takes a sacred life away from this earth. I would be what the world calls Pro-Life. However, depending on the extremely low percentage of events where the mother’s life would be lost during pregnancy or delivery, there may be room for a caveat here.

Killing in War: I believe we should always be pushing for peaceful resolution. To preserve the sacredness of life would mean to seek peace. However, as in Deut. 20:10-18, depending what the war is fighting for, like, say, the sacredness of human life, there may be room for a caveat here.

Assisted Suicide: To preserve life would mean to not take one, so I am against assisted suicide. However, at what point do people stop living and machines start doing the living for them? Is mechanically extending life what preserving life means? There may be room for a caveat here.

Death Penalty: To preserve the sacredness of life, I would be against this in principle. Yet, pending the judicial system used, and how in tune with Scripture that system is, there may be room for a caveat here.

Seems like with every case above (and the many I did not get to), I am for preserving life on this earth. But it also seems like there is always a counter point which negates universal conformity to a rule. Granted, I push the bill a little with some of my caveats above, but subjectivity and discernment do not coexist with law very well. Because of the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3, we tend to trust law over people. It’s easier and less messy.

I generally think, though, that Christ followers need to enter into the messiness of individual situations and deal with things case by case rather than broad sweeping absolutes. I think this is especially true in the complex areas of life like the ones listed above.

But hey, I’m only one man. What do you think?

Questions to Ponder:

1) Why do love and hate play such a big role in fully understanding this command?

2) What are some other complex discussions that this command speaks to?

3) How do we include the “image of God” into the beliefs that undergird our worldviews?