The Sanctity of Life

By Mike Mazzalongo Posted: Fri. Dec 31st 2010
Mike discusses the reasoning behind the sixth commandment not to kill and the various ways it applies to our lives.
You shall not murder.
- Exodus 20:13

The 6th commandment refers specifically to the taking of a "human" life. If you kill your cat, you may be cruel but you are not a murderer. There are two purposes behind this command.

  1. To demonstrate and maintain the nature and value of human life. The sanctity of life is tied to the belief that humans are created by God in His own image. Aggression against another human is also aggression against God and for this reason is wrong.
  2. To protect human life in our evil world. Those who believe that there is no God can easily be led to believe that human life is only as valuable as the service it renders to society. For example, if you are poor, handicapped or old then your life is not valuable because you do not contribute much.

In nations where belief in God is widespread, every person is considered equally important because of their nature not their productivity. Where there is no belief (e.g. communism), there is also no problem with abortion, killing people who speak out, eliminating people like the poor, the sick and elderly, because they are a burden and no more than just flesh - old flesh.

The danger in our country is the growth of humanistic philosophy in the last 100 years. Humanism is dangerous because it denies the existence of God but uses ideas that come from a belief system that does. For example, they believe that caring for the sick and poor is a good idea since this is the best way to run a society and promote peace.

They do not do it because it is a divine command; rather they do it because they see that a system based on the principle of "loving your neighbor" really works and serves their social goals. The danger is subtle here but very real. It is not a big step from believing in God with love to disbelieving in God with love to disbelieving in God without love.

If someone comes along and says that they have a better plan for society (do it my way or I will kill you) and they have the muscle to back it up, there is no moral authority to stop them. This command establishes God as the final arbitrator over life and death, and over how we treat each other - not man.

What is the rule?

You shall not murder. That is the unlawful taking of another human life. What does this mean in everyday terms?

  1. Unlawful physical aggression – One continuous line of unlawful aggression beginning with anger and including violence, rape and murder. Jesus connects anger and murder in the sense that both are on the same continuum.
  2. Suicide – We can permit a terminally ill patient to die naturally without keeping them on a support system that might prolong their lives. We cannot kill someone who requests to be killed because of depression or pain. There are many reasons why people kill themselves (depression, substance abuse effects, pain) but these do not justify the act. As Christians, we believe that God will not allow us to carry more than we can bear: physically or emotionally.
  3. Abuse – This is the taking of unnecessary risks to our or other's lives in order to feed our egos. Our bodies belong to God, not ourselves. Foolish risks to gain fame or approval or excitement are presumptuous before our creator.

So is the abuse of our bodies through consumption of unlawful or harmful substances. This includes tobacco or illegal drugs as well as the overindulgence of food, drink and prescriptions, etc. The commandment also prohibits damaging our bodies with overwork, over-exercise or overdoing. Christians are to bring honor to God with their own bodies and honor the bodies of others as they honor their own.

What the command does permit

This command does permit killing in certain circumstances.

A. Hunting and Fishing

Animals are not human, not made in the image of God and do not face judgment. There is no intrinsic difference in the value of the life of a bird, an elephant, or a whale - only size and species. The issue here is not murder but stewardship. We are the stewards of the earth's resources of animals; are we managing it well and without cruelty?

B. Capital punishment

The Bible considers life so precious that to unlawfully take one leads to the forfeiting of one's own in many cases (Genesis 9:6; Deuteronomy 19:11-13; Romans 13:1-ff). All murder is killing but not all killing is murder. God gives the State permission to execute criminals. This is seen in both the Old and New Testament.

Of course, there are those that argue that a God of love and mercy would not condone such a thing - and this is a Biblical argument for the other side. The balance is found in Exodus 23:7.

Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or righteous, for I will acquit the guilty

The goal in the consideration of the death penalty is not to stop rape and murder (these will always be because of sin), the goal is divine justice carried out by God's servant - the State. In doing its job the State must make absolutely sure that justice is carried out fairly in every case because in the end God will demand a reckoning from the accused as well as those carrying out His justice.

C. Police Work

13Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, 14or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.
- I Peter 2:13-14

We are not allowed to take the law into our own hands because we have not been given this right by God or the State. Upholding the law is the duty of government and God will judge those who have served in this way. You may have a good reason to want personal revenge, but you have no legal right or spiritual support for it (Romans 12:19).

D. Self-Defense

If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no blood guiltiness on his account.
- Exodus 22:2

God makes provision for us to use legal means to protect ourselves. This extends to national defense as well.

  • In Luke 13:14, Acts 10, the soldiers in question were not obliged to give up their roles to follow Christ.
  • In Romans 13, Paul speaks of the legitimate right the government has to use force in defending society.

Justified self-defense is where an individual or a country defends itself against unjustified aggression against itself or those it is responsible to protect.

How do we keep this command?

38"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' 39But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. 41Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

43"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
- Matthew 5:38-45

vs. 38 - Refers to the Jewish law of restitution that said that you must repay what you have lost, stolen or damaged. The purpose was to "regulate" restitution so that it would not escalate to revenge (2 eyes for 1 eye) In a broader sense this also refers to the role of government - to regulate justice and mete out punishment fairly for everyone.

vs. 39-43 - Refers to the "law" by which the Christian lives. This law is above the law of government. The idea is that the Christian does not build upon evil for evil but overcomes evil with good. Christians do not run the government but in their personal lives, they do control the law by which they will live. Christ calls us to this higher law. This does not mean a Christian cannot protect himself or seek protection or justice from the State.

Even Jesus said that if His battle was on earth He would call 10,000 angels to defend Him (John 18:36).

Allowing a murderer to attack your family or violate your home and responding by "turning the other cheek" is foolish and not really loving your family to whom you owe your first loyalty in society. This type of misguided attitude encourages evil. Obeying this command as Christians requires us to exercise Christian love and forgiveness with wisdom and proper judgment. For example, I will pray for and forgive the drunk driver who kills one in my family, but I will also support the government's right and duty to punish this person according to the law. Both are required of me and the government by God.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do you break the 6th commandment?
  2. Should the death penalty be applied in every murder case? Why or why not?
  3. What is the spiritual condition of Christians who commit suicide?
  4. Is out present war with Iraq a "just" war? Why?