Sunday, May 21, 2006

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 11

In the last installment, I began a discussion of the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not kill." I said that God cares about each of our lives and commands us to respect others' lives because:
  • Our lives represent a very personal investment of God in us
  • God has made us in His image, giving us a special capacity for entering into relationships of love with God and others
  • God's identity with us is so strong that He became one of us, in Jesus Christ, to give us forgiveness of sin and new life
But Jesus tells us that there's a lot more to the command not to kill than refraining from overt murder. During His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:
"You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill." (Matthew 5:21-22)
Any psychotheraptist can tell you about the life-robbing power of harsh words. I've read or heard a story that conveys this truth many times. I believe it's true. It seems that a little boy went to a Vacation Bible School at a church near his home and on returning, tearfully recounted to his mother what a terrible experience it had been. Some of the kids saw that his ears were outsized for his small head and began to make fun of him, calling him, Ozzie the Rabbit, over and over again.

The mother listened to her son pour out his anguished heart and then said, "You know, you do sort of look like a rabbit. That's a good nickname for you." So, the boy's own mother picked up where the bullies had left off in tearing down his self-esteem.

Can you imagine how crushed that little fellow must have felt that day? Now imagine the burden on his psyche of year-after-bruising year of being subjected to those kinds of emotional assaults by his own mother.

Ozzie grew, not surprisingly, to become a misfit. He succeeded at nothing in his life. His wife regularly berated him, just as his mother had.

Perhaps it was to prove to the world that he could accomplish something, even if what he accomplished was a horrific crime, that Ozzie---Lee Harvey Oswald---took a high-powered rifle to the sixth-floor of the Texas Book Depository on November 22, 1963, to shoot and kill President John Kennedy. Within days, Oswald's short and pathetic life would be brought to an end when an emotionally unstable nightclub owner, Jack Ruby, shot him.

Nothing can justify Oswald's crime, of course. But a pathologically discouraging mother may go a long way toward explaining why he killed our President.

None of this means, of course, that we keep this commandment by mindlessly mouthing "affirmations" at people or by telling people how wonderful they are when they're being monstrous. It does mean that we're called, as Martin Luther puts it in The Small Catechism, to "not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life."

More on what keeping this commandment might mean in the next installment of the series.

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