Life Worship Notes
“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13
Do Not Kill
The notes in my Bible state the key word in this sixth of the Ten Commandments translates appropriately as either murder or kill. A quick survey of popular Bible translations shows a slight preference for murder over kill, but both are used. While killing is the taking of another life, murder is the unlawful taking of another life. By earthly law, most killing in war is lawful killing. However, is it appropriate to interpret biblical directives in the context of human definitions of right and wrong? Is it human or divine law that determines when the taking of another life is permissible?
I confess to being a conflicted pacifist. I want to believe killing others is not an effective solution to what ails us. Even in war, the soldiers killing and being killed do not begin, sustain, or end the war. The initiators and controllers of the conflict usually stay safely away from danger. Please understand: the past and present risks taken, and the sacrifices made by military personnel, humble me. I appreciate their selfless dedication and service; and I understand I am able sit at my desk and pontificate because of their willingness to lay down their lives for mine. In spite of my professed pacifism, I imagine scenarios where another person threatens my family. I have no problem visualizing doing whatever is necessary to protect those I love, up to and including killing the person doing the threatening. Is that personal situation significantly different from killing for one’s country? Does this commandment prohibit us from protecting others with all options available? How does Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek inform the discussion?
I turned 18 as the Vietnam War was winding down. When I registered for the military draft, one question asked if I had moral or religious objections to killing others. I thought of this commandment and checked, “Yes.” Subsequently, I received Conscientious Objector status, an interesting designation. Had I been drafted and sent to war, I probably would have served without objection. However, I did not understand how else to reconcile my Christian beliefs with the question about killing. In my mind, I played out a scenario where I had my rifle pointed at an enemy soldier, who was pointing a rifle at me—would I shoot? In John 15:13, Jesus says there is no greater love than to lay one’s life down for one’s friends. Ultimately, it was not laying down my life that conflicted me, but the taking of the life of another. Is it permissible to kill a person if that act will save others? Certainly, that is one justification for war. The Jewish authorities justified the killing of Jesus as necessary to preserve the way of life for the entire Jewish community. It would be helpful if this commandment contained clarifying commentary. As written, some of us will struggle mightily with its application. In truth, I believe that struggle is exactly what God intends.
Come home to church this Sunday. Join the ranks of the faithfully conflicted.