Alexander M. Sanders, Jr., was the Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals for a number of years and is currently the president of the Charleston School of Law. Back in 1992 he was asked to deliver the commencement address for the graduating Class of the University of South Carolina. His daughter, Zoe was a member of that class and in his speech Judge Sanders shared the following story from her life.
When Zoe was three years old, Sanders came home from work to find a CRISIS in his household. Zoe’s pet TURTLE had died, and she was crying as if her heart would break. Her mother, having coped with the problems of the home all day, gladly turned this one over to the father to solve. At the time, Sanders was practicing law as well as serving in the state legislature. And frankly, he felt it was a problem a lawyer/politician was not up to solving. The mysteries of life and death are difficult, if not impossible for the MATURE mind to fathom. The task of explaining them to a THREE-YEAR-OLD was completely beyond either his confidence or experience. But he tried anyway.
FIRST, he made the obvious argument that they would get another turtle to replace the one that died. They would go down to the pet store and buy another one just like the one that was gone. But he got nowhere with that argument. Even at three years old, Zoe was smart enough to know that there is a certain non-transferability about living things. She knew that a turtle is not a toy and that there’s really no such thing as getting another one just like the one that died. So Zoe’s tears continued.
Finally, in desperation, Sanders said, “I tell you what—we’ll have a FUNERAL for the turtle.” Being three years old, Zoe didn’t know what a funeral was. So, he quickly proceeded to expand on the theme. Bob Michael and Jurgen Rivera would tell us that at this point Saunders was employing the typical lawyer’s tactic of DIVERSION—which means if you can’t win on the issue at hand, the best thing to do is to take off on something completely beside the point. So Saunders explained, “A funeral is a great festival in HONOR of the turtle.”
Well, Zoe didn’t know what a festival was either so he quickly proceeded to explain further. And, as he did so, he departed from the LAWYER’S tactic of DIVERSION and began to engage in the POLITICIAN’S prerogative of outright LYING. He said to his daughter, “Actually, a funeral is like a BIRTHDAY PARTY! We’ll have ice cream and cake and lemonade and balloons, and all the children in the neighborhood will come over to our house to play.” Well this tactic worked! Zoe’s tears began to dry, and she quickly returned to her happy, smiling self again. She was very excited at the prospect of all that was going to happen—a party with all the trimmings, all because the turtle had died. This was great!
Then, something utterly unforeseen happened. Saunders and his daughter looked down, and lo and behold, the turtle began to move. He wasn’t dead after all! In a matter of seconds, he was crawling away as lively as ever. And for once, the politician was struck dumb. He didn’t know what to say. But Zoe appraised the situation perfectly. With all the innocence of her tender years, she looked up at her father and said, “Daddy, let’s kill it.”
We chuckle—but the sad fact is our society has come to think much like little Zoe did that day for death is something that has become more and more acceptable. I mean the sad fact is, for various reasons death is now commonplace. It’s lost much of its shock value. Some would go so far as to say that ours has become a “culture of death.” And I’m sure you’ll agree that this is not too much of a stretch.
This week I came across some surprising statistics. Here’s one: Americans now alive who will one day be murdered: 2,000,000. These two million future murder victims come from the more than 26,000 people who are murdered in the U.S. every year. That’s three murders per hour all day long. Think about that. This means that while we worship in this room today 3 people will have their lives brutally taken from them.
And, sadly, there is more than a good chance some of those murders will take place about 15 miles south of here in the nation’s capital. Several years ago an Air Force chaplain and his family joined our church briefly. I say briefly because he was only here for a one year assignment. His orders stated that in order for him to be trained as a combat chaplain he would have to learn to deal with the death and destruction that he would encounter on the battlefield. And since the murder rate was so high in D.C. he was assigned to be a chaplain at one of our inner city hospitals. He shared with me that there were always three or four shootings on his shift—conditions very much like they are on a battlefield. Other big cities like Detroit, New Orleans, and Richmond would provide chaplains with similar experiences because of THEIR high murder rate.
But it’s not just ACTUAL murders that give our culture this morbid designation. It’s the fact that murder has become a form of ENTERTAINMENT. Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College, says, “By the time the average child finishes elementary school, he or she has watched 8,000 televised murders and 100,000 acts of on screen violence.” And it’s not just TV screens—it’s computer screens because these days video games look so life-like that those who play them get the sensation of actually killing someone. David Walsh, director of the National Institute on Media and the Family, agrees and says: “What happens when a teen spends a lot of time playing violent video games is [that] the aggression center of the brain activates, but the emotional center of the brain deactivates—exactly the combination that we would not want to see.”
Psychologist and former Col. David Grossman agrees and says that modern video games are chillingly effective at desensitizing teens to the act of killing other human beings. As evidence of his claim, Grossman points to a Paducah, Kentucky, native named Michael Carneal. In 1997, then 14-year-old Carneal opened fire in the lobby of his high school, seriously injuring five of his classmates and killing three others. This is a picture of Michael after his arrest. A subsequent police investigation found that Michael’s parents had converted their two-car garage into a playroom lined with point-and-shoot arcade games. In other words, years of playing violent video games had provided Michael with the EMOTIONAL training needed to kill another human being.
What’s even more frightening is that those video games also provided Michael with the PHYSICAL training needed to use a deadly weapon. Prior to the night before his killing spree, he had never shot an actual pistol. However, when he opened fire on his fellow students, he did so with a surprising degree of accuracy. Grossman says: “Carneal had kneeling, scrambling, screaming targets. He fired eight shots at eight of those targets. Five of them were head shots, the other three were upper torso. I have trained the FBI. I have trained Navy SEALS, Green Berets, and Texas Rangers. And when I tell them about this case, they’re simply stumped. Nowhere in the annals of law enforcement, military, or criminal history can we find equivalent achievement.”
Grossman goes on to say that the data linking violence in video games, movies, and TV shows to violence in society is stronger that the data linking cancer to tobacco. The American Medical Association agrees and is on record as claiming that violence in media is causually-related to about 10,000 homicides annually. Of course shooting sprees like Michael went on in 1997 are common place today—graphics in video games are much more realistic—and much of the blame falls on the fact that our society has made murder a form of entertainment.
Ours is a “culture of death”—a culture where popular musicians who sing about rape and brutality make millions, a culture that bombards us with violent images on our TV and computer screens. It is no wonder that God, Who created Human life, saw the need for this sixth commandment. Before we read it let’s use our sign language to review the prior five commandments we’ve studied.
- Law #1 – Keep God First (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship Only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s Name (three fingers over mouth)
- Law #4 – Honor God’s Day (four fingers on your cheek as if to nap)
- Law# 5 – Honor my parents (five fingers over your heart)
This morning’s command is just two words in Hebrew—four in English but don’t worry, we’re going to read it in English. Look at the screens and let’s read Exodus 20:13 together:
Exodus 20: 13 – You shall not murder.
The symbol for this one is to hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun” and aim at the other hand. It’s like saying, “Stop murdering!” Let’s try it. Good! Now, the first thing I want to point out is that this law does not say “Thou shalt not KILL.”The Hebrew language has eight different words for killing. The word used here has been carefully chosen. It’s pronounced: “ratzach” and it is a word that deals exclusively with murder. To be more precise, “ratzach” refers to the intentional ending of innocent life. “Ratzach” is the unjust premeditated taking of a human life.
The Hebrews needed this law as much as we do because for 400 years prior to receiving the Ten Commandments THEY had been living in a “culture of death.” Life had been marginalized for the Israelites in their Egyptian captivity. For all those centuries they had been treated as mere slaves and brick makers. They were “things” not people. The Hebrews had seen friends and family members beaten and murdered by their cruel taskmasters. And now having been rescued by God and preparing to enter the Promised Land, this sixth commandment is God calling His people to live differently than their culture. He was commanding them NOT to not murder—to honor the sanctity of human life. And He has given US the same command.
Okay—I want us to arrange our study of this sixth command around the answers to three questions: “What doesn’t it say?” “What DOES it say?” and finally, “Why is murder wrong?”
Let’s get started.
(1) What DOESN’T this sixth foundational command say?
a. First, it DOESN’T address the killing of animals for food.
Now, the Bible DOES teach the humane treatment of animals. Proverbs 12:10 says, “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.” But God’s Word gives people the right to kill animals for our nourishment. Genesis 9:3 says, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Scripture records that Jesus ate fish on numerous occasions and as a good Jewish man He would also have eaten meat at Passover. So this command does not forbid the killing of animals for food
b. It also DOESN’T address capital punishment.
Capital punishment for the murder of an innocent person is actually MANDATED in the Bible. In fact, Jewish law lists eighteen crimes liable to the death penalty, including murder, child sacrifice, kidnaping, incest, adultery, and witchcraft. So when this law was given capital punishment was an accepted means of law enforcement though it was rarely carried out. It is first mentioned when Noah exited the ark and God said, “Whoever sheds the blood of a man, by man shall his blood be shed.” (Genesis 9:6) However–we should also note that the Bible contains very careful guidelines to protect people who were wrongfully accused of murder. Cities of refuge were designated as safe places to which an individual could flee if he had accidentally ended the life of another. He would find protection there and be given a chance to explain what happened.
Plus—their laws were much more stringent than ours when it came to charging someone with homicide. Deuteronomy 19:15 says that at least two witnesses must see the crime before a person can be charged with murder. And circumstantial evidence was not valid in a Jewish court. As it says in Exodus 23:7, steps were always taken NOT to “…execute the innocent or the righteous.” In any case—this law does not refer to capital punishment.
You may disagree with me and that’s totally ok—I know Christians are divided on this issue—but I believe there is a great difference between the murder of an innocent person—and society’s determination to end the life of the individual who has intentionally killed another human being. In my mind a capital punishment law underscores how precious human life is. It says that if an individual shows that he does not cherish human life he must forfeit his own so that others will not lose their right to life at his hands.
c. The third thing this law DOESN’T address is WAR.
God often called the people of Israel to war—and whereas war is always wrong—sadly, in a sinful, fallen world, war is often necessary to insure that people will be treated justly by others.
Since the days of Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas the church has worked to develop the concept of a “just war.” I still remember the lecture on the just war theory in my ethics class in seminary. You may remember the first President Bush referring to this at the beginning of the Gulf War. Basically a just war is a war that is waged only as a last resort when all other efforts at diplomacy have failed. It is a war that defends that which is right or punishes that which is wrong.
For a war to meet the “just war” criteria it must have a just cause—such as ending Hitler’s aggression. And—it must also have a clear and just intent—such as freeing the people of Kuwait from Hussein or protecting Christians and other minorities from Isis. The goal of a JUST war is to make things better for the nations involved. For this reason a nuclear would fail to meet the standards of the just war theory. So—this commandment is not a restriction against war.
d. It also DOESN’T prohibit SELF-DEFENSE.
This commandment doesn’t keep us from defending ourselves or our families from those who are trying to take our lives. Now—I have to stop and point out that this sixth commandment not only applies to UNLAWFUL killing—killing that is against society’s laws—but it also applies to ILLEGITIMATE killing as well. I mean, there are times when killing a person may be legal, but it is still illegitimate. For example killing Jewish people in concentration camps was legal in Nazi Germany, but it was illegitimate so it was a violation of the sixth commandment. Ethic cleansing like that which took place in Bosnia and Rwanda may have been “legal” but it too was a violation of this command. Beheadings like those that have taken place in Syria and Iraq may be “legal” according to Jihadist “law” but they are a horrible violation of GOD’S law.
(2) Okay, let’s move on. What it DOES this sixth command say?
a. Well, as I’ve said, it IS of course a prohibition against HOMICIDE.
And sadly since Cain got this started people have murdered others. I mean, MURDER is not NEW. One of the earliest homicides took place several thousand years ago when Lamech proudly announced his murderous deed to his wives in Genesis 4, saying: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’ is seventy-sevenfold.” So, even way back then evil people CELEBRATED murder rather than ABHORING it
b. A second kind of murder this law addresses is SUICIDE.
Suicide is SELF-murder. It is claiming lordship over your own life—and every year 37,000 Americans make this horrible decision. I know we were all shocked and saddened when Robin Williams ended his own life a few months ago. You may be grieving a loved one who did the same thing.
Now, I need to make it clear that suicide is a sin—but it is as forgivable as any other sin. Referring to a Christian who takes his or her life McQuilkin says, “…the redeemed suicide, crashing uninvited into God’s presence, is acceptable to the Father because of One Who deliberately gave His own life a sacrifice.” Nevertheless, suicide is violence against one made in the image of God and perhaps even more violent emotionally to the survivors than to the individual. We must see the struggles of people around us who despair as a call to rally behind them and love and care for them as we shower them with love and grace.
c. Another thing this law prohibits is ABORTION.
I know that word doesn’t shock us as it once did because it is so commonplace. In the nearly 41 years since ROW v. WADE legalized abortion in our country over 56 million unborn children have lost their lives in this manner. Their names would fill the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial wall nearly a thousand times. And 97% of those 57 million lives were ended simply because they were an inconvenience to their parents. These children were not conceived as a result of incest or rape.
They were perfectly healthy and the pregnancy did not threaten the life of the mother. No, it was decided to end their lives simply because if they had lived it would have interfered with the plans of other people. I know that the attitude toward abortion has changed in our culture—but with drugs like the “morning after pill” it has become easier and to show you the continued prevalence of abortion let me give you some more statistics.
- Chances of your being killed by terrorists overseas: 1 in 650,000
- Chances of your being killed by Americans in Baltimore: 1 in 4,000
- Chances of your being aborted if you are in the womb of an American woman: 1 in 3.3
Referring to abortions in other countries as well as the U.S. Raymond Brown writes, “Every time our heart beats an unborn baby dies somewhere in the world.” Of course abortion is forgivable and the women who make this decision need our help and love. They need to experience the grace of God that heals the wounds our sins cause.
d. A fourth type of murder this law refers to is EUTHANASIA.
These days, “HOW TO” manuals on euthanasia are readily available on cyberspace bookshelves. Physician assisted death laws are now in force in the states of Washington, Oregon, Montana, Vermont, and Mexico. Euthanasia in one of its various forms is also legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Columbia, and Japan.
I may be wrong but I believe the Netherlands was the first country to legalize euthanasia. In fact, over the years the Dutch government has expanded physician assisted suicide to include not only terminally ill patients, but children, severely depressed patients, and elderly people not satisfied with the quality of their lives. In a report by the Dutch government back in 1995, the doctors admitted that 1,000 patients had been killed without giving consent. Actually voluntary euthanasia has become involuntary in Holland as an increasing number of request for death are coming from not patients but from their family members who want to get rid of them—sort of like abortion of the aged or infirmed.
By the way, I think it is ironic that in Holland only a generation earlier, during the Nazi occupation, in the 1940’s Dutch doctors refused to obey orders from their fascist occupiers to let elderly or terminally ill patients die without further treatment. In the words of Malcom Muggeridge, “It took only one generation to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.”
Now—maybe you hear all this and think, “I never murdered anyone and am not planning on it so I’m in the clear here. Why am I wasting my time listening to this bald guy preach on this text?”Well don’t leave just yet because there is a good chance that you ARE guilty of breaking this particular law of God.I mean, we wouldn’t think of lifting a gun or a knife against another person but we destroy them just the same.You see, our Savior taught that murder is more than an ACT. It is an ATTITUDE—fueled by anger so even our angry THOUGHTS can make us guilty of breaking this commandment.Remember, it was anger that led to the first murder and it continues to cause us to think murderous thoughts about others.In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus made it clear that “Anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin or anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Now,“Raca” was really more of a SOUND than a word. It was a clearing of the throat as though to say, “I spit on you.”And to call another person a “worthless fool” was the same as writing them off all together.Jesus said this kind of stuff was as bad as actually killing a person—for when we get this angry with someone then deep down inside we are thinking that this person doesn’t deserve to be alive.In this instant of anger we are saying, “I don’t want to have anything to do with this person. As far as I’m concerned my life would be better if his life would end.”The fact is, if we are not careful anger can lead us to think in ways that devalue human life.
You know, we are lot like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day in that we would rather deal with externals, but Jesus is not satisfied with that. He wants to deal with INTERNAL things. He wants to talk about what is happening in our hearts. He knows that long before I would murder someone, I would begin the process with my thoughts. Ron Mehl writes, “Jesus deals with the ROOT of this commandment, not just its fruit. He’s not content to trim off the nettles and poison oak in our lives close to the ground. No, He wants to uproot the whole poisonous weed.”
David Buss of the University of Texas asked his students if they had ever thought seriously about killing someone, and if so, to write out their homicidal fantasies in an essay. He was astonished to find that 91 percent of the men and 84 percent of the women had detailed, vivid homicidal fantasies. He was even more astonished to learn how many steps some of his students had taken toward carrying them out. One woman invited an abusive ex-boyfriend to dinner with thoughts of stabbing him in the chest. A young man in a fit of road rage pulled a baseball bat out of his trunk and would have pummeled his opponent if he hadn’t run away. Another young man planned the progression of his murder — crushing a former friend’s fingers, puncturing his lungs, then killing him. Shocking, isn’t it!
No need to raise hands but have you ever had thoughts like these? Maybe they weren’t as graphic as these college students but have you ever harbored unjust anger or bitterness toward another human being? Have you hurled insults, gossip, or name calling at another person? Is there anyone in your life right now with whom you are unreconciled because you’ve refused to move through your anger to forgiveness and repentance? C.S. Lewis said, “If you look upon ham and eggs with lust, you have already committed breakfast in your heart.” And Jesus said, “If you have looked at another person with anger or insult you have already committed murder in your heart.”
You know, many of us break at least the SPIRIT of this law by refusing to HELP people who in need—the lonely or the hungry or the homeless—or by refusing to share our faith with the people around us who need to hear of Jesus’ love. Remember without Him they face eternal death. When we don’t join God in His work and help people in physical need—when we don’t share the Gospel message when God opens the door for us to do so—we devalue human life.So, this command applies to ALL of us. I mean, the question is not whether or not we are murderers—but rather what kind of murderers are we?
(3) Okay—let’s move on to dealing with our last question: Why is murder wrong?
It’s wrong—because, as I said earlier, only humans are made in the image of God. Human life is SACRED. Now, “image” refers to someone who resembles someone else—like a son who is the image of his father. Since God is spirit, this doesn’t mean we are PHYSICALLY like God. No the fact that we are made in the image of God means we have similar inner qualities: the ability to reason—to enter into relationships—especially to relate to God. No other created thing has the ability to relate to our Creator as we do. So, since we are created in God’s image—to end a life is a sacrilege. Since we bear God’s image, wrongfully killing another human being is an attack against God Himself.
But the thing that most clearly shows the uniqueness—the VALUE—of human life is the fact that God sent His only Son to die for us. This is an estimation of human worth beyond our comprehension. God treasures you and me more than any other thing He created and this is indicated by the fact that He not only loved us enough to create us in His image. He also loved us enough to pay the unbelievable cost of redeeming us. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates His own love—-He shows how much He valued human life in this—while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” So, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, there is no such thing as a “mere mortal.” The words to that song we sang as children are so true, “Red and yellow, black and white, they ARE precious in His sight.”
A lighting expert was given the job of illuminating a statue of a boy. First, he put the lights on the floor shining upon the boy’s face. He stepped back and looked at it and was shocked—it made the boy look demented. So—He changed the lights. He tried every possible position. Finally he put the lights up above where they shone down on the boy’s face. Then he stood back and smiled, for the boy looked like an angel. There is truth for us in this story. When we look at people from the earthly level some look inferior, and it is easy to feel that “Those people don’t matter. They’re not really worth much.” But when we look at a person, any person, through the eyes of Christ with the light streaming down on him from God, then that life becomes sacred. Looking at humanity from this perspective shows us then that to murder another human is an unbelievably horrible sin. It is clearly wrong to cheapen human life in any way.
From our study of this text I believe God would want us to understand that there really IS a SANCTITY of human life. He would want us to realize that both our lives and the lives of others are our sacred trust. And, as I said, God’s Word clearly teaches that we must guard not only our ACTIONS toward others but also our THOUGHTS. In short—nothing we do or think should betray this sacred trust in any way—because Human life is a very precious thing.
Let us pray.