Protecting lives

God says, “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).

Luther explains, “What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

Salvageable adds: This commandment prompts discussions in many controversial areas: abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, and just and unjust wars, to name a few. Christians should seek God’s will in these extreme cases, but too often Christians become absorbed with these cases and overlook the everyday ways in which we are tempted to sin against this commandment.

This is the first of four brief commandments which protect, in order, lives, marriages, property, and reputations. (They are so brief that three of them are tied for shortest verse in the Bible, if we count letters in the original languages rather than in English translations.) Luther indicates that we not only are forbidden to kill our neighbors, but we are not to hurt or harm them in any way. Jesus goes even further, indicating that rage and insults against a neighbor also trespass this commandment.

Obedience to this commandment involves attitudes as well as actions. All human life is to be respected and even treasured. We should not even want to harm a neighbor. This includes deliberate acts of violence, and also carelessness. When we carelessly risk harming a person’s life or health, we break this commandment. That applies to our own lives as well. We are to be good stewards of our bodies—neither obsessing over our health and fitness to the point of idolatry, nor engaging in unhealthy habits that can shorten our lives or reduce our ability to serve God by helping our neighbors.

Even neglect is sinful. Not only are we to avoid hurting and harming others, but we are to help and support others. Both Old and New Testaments call God’s people to care for widows and orphans and all that are poor and vulnerable. Deuteronomy 15:4-5 says, “But there will be no poor among you; for the Lord will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today.” But Deuteronomy 15:11 says, “There will never cease to be poor in the land.” God knew that his people would sin, failing to honor and protect the lives of their neighbors, allowing selfishness and greed and cold-heartedness to keep them from caring about the lives of their neighbors. Those sins continue today. Enough food is produced in the world each year to feed every person alive, preventing starvation and diseases caused by malnutrition. The food is not distributed evenly, though, so that those who have more than enough can share with those in need. Politics, waste, and greed all play a part in the inequities of the world. We could be doing better.

Special circumstances call for a lifting of this commandment. Soldiers on a battlefield behave in ways that would be inappropriate anywhere else. Medical and religious professionals help families make difficult decisions about care given to the terminally ill. Many Christians believe that it shows respect for human life to deprive a murderer of his or her life. Even Jesus laid down his life as a sacrifice, dying so his people can live, purchasing forgiveness for all of our sins, including sins against the lives of our neighbors. J.

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10 thoughts on “Protecting lives

    • Interesting read. You are quite right to be offended when anyone–particularly a pastor–refers to death as God taking someone or needing them in heaven. That’s an awful way to speak of God, and it surely brings no comfort. In general, though, asking why God doesn’t work more miracles to prevent deaths in Las Vegas, Africa, or wherever is akin to asking why he put that nasty tree in the garden in the first place. Why does God permit evil to happen?–that’s an old, old question. I believe that at times God does work miracles to spare lives–we have no way of knowing how often. When he does not–when he permits death, or anything evil to happen–we can only assume that it has a part in a greater purpose, one that ultimately is good. Does God understand the pain of victims and the grief of victims and their families and friends? Absolutely! God lost a Son in the prime of life as a result of great evil–envy, lies, injustice in the courtroom, sadistic torture, and finally death. Yet in that tragedy was great victory. Jesus willingly suffered and died to defeat all evil, even death itself. He rose again to prove his victory and to guarantee his people a resurrection like his. That is the comfort I share with those who grieve at a death. For the Christian, death is not the end–even a horrible death is only a passing trouble that brings the Christian to Paradise, to the hands of the Father, to await a resurrection into a world without pain, sorrows, death, or evil of any kind. J.

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      • I appreciate your reply and in reading what I wrote. Thank you.
        Although I find your words reflecting the typical Christian interpretation, not that it is “wrong”.. just it rather shines empty to the tragedy of death.

        “When he does not–when he permits death, or anything evil to happen–we can only assume that it has a part in a greater purpose, one that ultimately is good.”
        That is the oft used reason that provides absolutely no solace because as humans death is defined not only in the end-of-life event that it is but also but the method of death, which was primarily my post focus. Remember.. we always seem to derive a measure of solace when we ask, “Did they suffer?” Many, many forms of death include a huge measure of prior suffering.. and that’s when we measure God’s intention. It’s one thing to suggest there’s ultimately some good and grand purpose in the death of your loved one… but did God need to make them suffer.. tortured by another human.. burned alive… smashed beyond all recognition, in the process? It matters little the spiritual comparison between God and the torture of his own son for humanity. One can also suggest that in spite of His omnipotence, He allowed His earthly son to be used in such a manner simply for the sake of the divine devotion of humanity. What Father could watch their son go through that and not intervene when they have the capability to do so?

        Now.. I make these death observations not out of some struggle for my own soul. I am old enough and have been around long enough to have reached my own particular understanding and relationship with the Almighty. I just find the large number of evangelical conservatives who love to quote rhyme and verse from the Bible about Christian ideals interfacing into politics yet no one can present the concept of death… because politics causes death as much as giving us a format to live.

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      • @Doug
        I have to think that God is every bit as grieved by senseless death as we are. As a parent, I know how much it hurt me to see my children being unkind to each other. When someone you love hurts someone you love, you die a little inside.
        I imagine it must be similar for our Heavenly Father.

        I don’t pretend to understand why it seems that sometimes God sits on His Hands and lets evil rip; all I can do is trust that things aren’t always as they seem, and that God is working behind the scenes, redeeming it all.

        As Jesus hung on the Cross, his Father DID sit on His Hands and let evil rip. As a mom, that is unthinkable to me – there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do to save my children. Yet God did not intervene, He allowed His Son to be degraded, tortured and painfully, ignobly murdered as a criminal.

        Jesus, of course, was no criminal and yet His Father, the Judge of all, passed our sentence upon Him, *and called it good*. In the injustice of the Cross, we have been made just. It’s backwards, it doesn’t make any sense…aren’t we taught that two wrongs don’t make a right?

        At the Cross, eternal justice hides behind hideous injustice, and it is from this that I draw hope and comfort. If God can use the disgrace of the Cross to accomplish the salvation of mankind, who am I to say that he cannot redeem all evil?

        I have no easy answers, and even the one I offer seems a little unsatisfying, doesn’t it? I’ve made my peace with it though. Better to believe that God is working behind the scenes, redeeming evil, than to believe He is arbitrary and capricious. That is not a god I could worship, nor is it the God that Scripture reveals.

        Those are my thoughts, anyhow…

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      • I’ve often said on my own blog that it’s not my intent to pass judgement nor question the spiritual beliefs of others. Each of us has to find some measure of a comfort zone in drawing strength from whatever source provides it. As my reply above alludes to, I was trying to present a contrary thought to those of the religious right politically that prefer to mix religion with political ideology by quoting scripture as some re-enforcement of political opinion and thought. The tragedies between the hurricanes and the Vegas shootings and the ongoing conflicts of our military illustrates a fair amount of death also being part of our politics. Christians seem to relish quoting variant interpretations of thou shalt not kill, yet little, if any thought is given to the victims themselves… and how being Christian is supposed to resolve that spiritually.
        Your reply above was sensitive and well represented to your belief… and that’s what’s most important.

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      • Doug, thank you for your thoughts. I quite agree with you that the dying is distinct from the death and is, in many cases worse. I read your comments before going to church and was thinking about them during the service. A phrase from one hymn (Jesus, Priceless Treasure) jumped out at me: “Pain or loss, Or shame or cross, Shall not from my Savior move me Since He deigns to love me.” I remember how Paul and other early Christians counted it an honor to suffer for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Also I thought about Job. Satan caused Job to suffer, but he did so with God’s permission, so God can be held accountable, in a way. Job complained and questioned God and was not punished or rejected for it. In fact, Job’s friends were scolded for saying that God makes no mistakes and Job deserved to suffer. When our sufferings, or those of others, drive us away from God, Satan wins. When suffering brings us to the cross of Christ, Satan loses. And I know that God permits suffering to happen for several reasons, one of them being that we recognize evil and reject it, preferring what is good . J.

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      • J, that’s a really good point, I was thinking earlier if God simply poof! removed all evil, would anything remain to motivate me to show mercy toward my neighbour? I wonder…

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