You Shall Not Murder — Exodus 20:13
We have been considering for several months the laws of God, beginning with the Greatest Commandment to love God with all our hearts, and now continuing into the ten Commandments. In our consideration, we are seeking to understand the laws not as laws only, but also as principles. To be sure, they are laws to obey, but my premise is that all of God’s laws can be thought of as principles too, because…
God did not give us any laws that will not give us a better existence if we follow them.
Today we are on to the commandment, “You shall not murder.” This seems fairly straightforward. Don’t kill people. Do we need to discuss this? I think so, because understanding the reason for the sanctity of life will revolutionize your own life. This is the law that I’ve waited the most impatiently to get into. So let me get into it.
The first question to ask about any of God’s laws is “why?” Of course, God is our perfect Father, and he has every right to say to us, “Because I said so,” but let’s ask anyway.
God made men and women in his image (Gen 1:28). In fact everything he made is important, because he made it. Why would he make it if it wasn’t important to him? Everything that exists has a purpose to be that thing that it is. We can count on that. God is perfect. He made a rock to be a rock and do all the things that rocks can do. He made a river to be a river, a mountain to be a mountain, a grain of sand to be a grain of sand.
The same is true for the living entities that he created. He made an ameba to be an ameba and do ameba-like things.
All things, from rocks and rivers and living things; from single-celled organisms, to plants, to animals, and finally to humans are made with a penultimate purpose and an ultimate purpose. The ultimate purpose of a thing, rock or human, is to glorify God. The penultimate (second highest) purpose of a thing is to be that thing. This is easy for the inanimate objects, they just sit there being. This takes more work for the living beings. They have to do something in order to keep on being. They have to live.
The purpose of a living being is to live.
This takes work, but every living thing does the work whenever it is possible. Microorganisms do what they do. Even coronaviruses will spread in order to keep on living if they can. They just will. There is no principle that a living thing will seek to die. It may seek to change, for instance from a caterpillar to a butterfly, but that is in order to continue living.
In fact, in order to glorify God a thing has to prioritize being the thing God made it to be, and that means keep living in the manner that God made it to exist. He built the plant to seek nutrients from the soil with its roots, to suck up whatever water was near, and to face the sun for its food. It will do that everytime the resources are available. Animals are a higher order than plants, because their intelligence is higher. It has to be, because their life, also a priority, is more complicated to maintain. They will need to move, to hunt and/or gather, to avoid predators, to find shelter, to find a mate, because their existence is also tied to the existence of their species.
God has equipped them with instincts and claws so that they can know what to do to live, and do it every time, because living is what they were made to do. When a lion or a microorganism lives, it glorifies the God who created it.
Man is the same in that regard. He is the highest created thing, so says God. God gave him all the other living things for food and usage to further promote his life (Gen 1:29, 9:23). Man’s flourishing above all the other created things and beings is a priority for the God who created him.
But what does this mean? Man’s life is precious to God, and should be precious to us. To kill would be a grave sin because of this. If even an animal, just being itself, were to kill a man and eat him, God said that animal shall not live (Gen 9:5).
But how is this a principle ?
Things get very interesting when this commandment is considered as a principle. It means that man, whose purpose is to glorify God, has the penultimate purpose of his own life. Life is precious to God. God has entrusted each of us with an important responsibility of being. The related biblical principle is stewardship. A man or woman’s life is his or her first responsibility. Even if we are to consider others as better than ourselves, we first have to consider ourselves as of primary importance to ourselves. The way I know you are supposed to be your number one priority is that you, and only you were given charge over your own choices by your Creator.
This is why, even when we give charity to someone, we know (hopefully) not to do it in a certain way that will cause them to stop bearing the majority of the responsibility for their own life and well-being. It dehumanizes them, just like the ill advised policies that say people who commit crimes should not be held responsible and punished by the state, because they obviously couldn’t help themselves.
This is why we instinctively feel joy at winning, and sadness at losing. Or we feel joy at gaining something, rather than losing something, especially if we are in great need of that thing (consider a person in a survival situation who almost catches a fish, but then loses it).
Let me push this principle of life even further to happiness. I want you to see that happiness is a product of a man successfully gaining the values that lead to the furthering of his life.
The elements of this kind of happiness are self confidence, and self esteem. You might add a good kind of pride (which is not the kind of pride that gets inflated by comparisons to other people). If you know what you are trying to accomplish for the sake of furthering your life, whether it is basic food needs, or romance, or creating art to enjoy, then you will feel good about yourself when you are being productive and accomplishing these things. To feel bad about failure in this regard is not sinful, it is biological and spiritual. We’re made that way.
Failure to understand this leads to the widespread depression, anxiety, and fear that we see all around us today, even (or especially) in the church. Without life as a principle and a penultimate goal leading to the ultimate goal of glorifying God, then we are purposeless. The “purposes” we create for ourselves after reading books about mission statements, or listening to self help gurus, don’t really cut it, because they skip this crucial principle. I imagine that instead they replace it with love for others. Love for others is a key biblical principle, as stated previously, but without an understanding of one’s life as purpose, then there is no “I” in “I love you” (I wish I was the first to point that out, but someone else, Aristotle or Rand did).
Life is precious and life is purpose. It is precious to God, so we don’t kill, and we take seriously the fact that he has entrusted us with our own life, which includes the body, the mind, the abilities, the opportunities that it comes with. Enjoy it by making the most of it and seeking to flourish. There are many other things to consider, like engaging in worship, mission, and blog writing, but that comes after simply existing as a creation of God, a life.