Saturday, May 20, 2006

Christian Faith: The Basics, Part 10

Writing of the Fifth Commandment in The Large Catechism, Martin Luther notes, "In this commandment we leave our own house and go out among our neighbors to learn how we should conduct ourselves individually toward our fellow men."
"You shall not kill."
We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life. (explanation is from The Small Catechism by Martin Luther)
What is the value of one human life?

Apparently, a lot.

The Fifth Commandment tells us that when we leave our homes, God wants us to be protected not just by parents, but by the whole human family. We, in turn, are to help protect others when they similarly leave the safety of their families. We are, first of all, to respect the sanctity of each other's lives.

If you're inclined to skip past this command, telling yourself that you've never murdered anyone, just as I once thought, please don't skip.

As far as I can tell, beside the First Commandment, this is the most violated of God's commands. And I'm not referring just to serial killers. Or just to mass murderers like Hitler, Stalin, Franco, Idi Amin, Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein.

I'm also referring to people like you...and me...because I doubt that a single human being has kept this commandment perfectly in their lives. Why I say that will become clear in this and the next several posts, I hope. But first, a word about why God cares about our lives so much.

According to Genesis 1, after God had given life to the lower creatures, He created humanity "in the image of God." (Genesis 1:26) Whatever else this curious phrase means, it must include, I think:
  • a special relationship with God;
  • a capacity to reason;
  • a capacity to choose to relate or not to relate to God and others; and
  • the ability to choose to love or to disregard others. (The opposite of love not being hate, but indifference.)
Genesis 2 says that God breathed His Spirit into inanimate dust and the first man became a living being. In the Old Testament Hebrew, the word translated as spirit, ruach, can also be rendered as air, breath, or wind. (The same is true of the equivalent word in the Greek of the New Testament, by the way. Pneuma can also be translated as spirit, air, wind, or breath. Like many words in the English language, how these words are to be translated is fairly clearly indicated by the contexts in which they appear.) The point is that God has invested something of Himself in us. We have life because He put it into us.

The level of God's investment in our living is underscored in the Bible's first recorded murder. Adam's and Eve's son, Cain killed his brother, Abel. When this happened, God heard Abel's blood cry out. "Where is your brother?" God asks Cain. "I dunno," he responds. "Am I my brother's keeper?" God's answer, of course, is, "Yes." We are all our brothers' and our sisters' keepers. God is so dialed into our lives that the death of one single human being is felt by Him. He expects us to care similarly about others' lives and deaths.

Of course, it's in Jesus Christ that we see the depths of God's investment in the human race most clearly. God became a human being to bear our punishment for sin and then, through His rising, to liberate us from death so that once more, we could enjoy oneness with God and with all who believe in Christ.

God cares about our lives and expects us to regard the lives of others for what they are: gifts from God.

This post has gone on long enough. I hope to resume the discussion of the Fifth Commandment in the next installment of this series.

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