Thou Shalt Not Kill

“You shall not murder.” Exodus 20:13

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering- Yoda

God is pro-life.

Now that I’ve gotten your attention, let me explain what I mean by that. When it comes to “pro-life”, as  Inigo Montoya said, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means”.  As it is commonly used today, the term has become associated with those who believe abortion, and sometimes even birth control, should be outlawed. I tend to agree with Sister Joan Chittister, who observed “that’s not pro-life; that’s pro-birth” and take a much broader view of the term. When I say God is pro-life, I mean that God cares about the welfare of every living part of his creation. That includes every single human being on the planet, as well as animals, plants, and the environment that sustains them. To be “pro-life” means to actively advocate for all of the above and to stand in opposition to the social Darwinism that causes some lifeforms to be designated winners and others losers. In terms of the elephant I just let out into the room, I believe the best way to reduce the number of abortions is through a combination of comprehensive sex education, access to affordable, effective methods of birth control, and a robust social safety net.

On the other side of the (usually) political spectrum from the advocates of abortion restriction  are the advocates for gun restriction. It never has made theological sense to me than generally folks are anti-choice and pro-gun, or pro-choice and anti-gun. It seems to me that a consistent pro-life position would be opposed to the proliferation of both abortions and guns.  You can’t say out of one side of your mouth that abortion restrictions are effective in preventing deaths, and out of the other say that gun restrictions are ineffective in preventing deaths. This has nothing to do with the Second Amendment or Roe vs. Wade, or even one’s premise of when life begins; it has to do with logic. I am also unconvinced by the use of statistics which compare the number of gun deaths to the number of deaths by abortion. (If you haven’t read “How to Lie With Statistics” yet, I highly recommend it.) Too often statistical arguments are red herrings which serve only to cause arguments about whose cause is worthier, and which accomplish nothing to solve the problem.

The first murder recorded in the Bible is the killing of Abel by his brother Cain. This is not an auspicious start for humanity, if you consider that with only four people introduced into the story so far, one decides to kill another. Genesis 4 relates that Cain became jealous, apparently because he thought that God always liked his brother best. God says to Cain,  “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” It’s always a good idea to pay attention when God tells you something, especially if you are hoping to win God’s favor like Cain supposedly was. Instead, he allowed his fear of inadequacy to fester into anger. Instead of controlling his emotions, Cain was controlled by them. His anger spiraled into hate, which is not an emotion, but a choice to ruminate on a negative emotion. He then made a further bad choice to deliberately act on his hate by waylaying and killing his brother. And as Yoda might have predicted, great suffering was the result- for his brother, his parents, himself, and for the God who cared for both Cain and Abel.

Jesus warned his followers that murder begins in the heart. In Biblical references, the heart was not the seat of the emotions but of the will…we might say “mindset”. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Jesus lists a series of escalating consequences as a person moves further and further toward the dark side. Anger is a natural human emotion, but it’s also dangerous because it can lead to hurtful behaviors.   A person might impulsively say words they don’t mean, but which cause deep wounds. Name calling is a symptom of contempt; when you call someone “raca” or “fool” you are moving into dangerous territory. If you believe that someone is worthless compared to you, anything goes….even murder. “Be angry and sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, advises Paul. I take that to mean “don’t let anger fester and infect you with hate. Don’t ruminate on the wrongs you perceive have been done unto you.” Certainly, there are examples of “righteous anger” in the Bible, such as Jesus chasing the money changers out of the Temple, but generally speaking when that occurs, it’s on behalf of others who are being hurt, not the feeling of being wronged oneself. If it’s you who are feeling wronged, it’s a good clue that your anger may be steering you down a dangerous path.

Thou shalt not kill“. There’s so much more to being “pro-life” than we realize, and this commandment just scratches the surface. I’ve touched on two hot-button topics here, but  haven’t even mentioned so many others. I haven’t talked about deaths as a result of war, or the prison system, or lack of healthcare, or unjust economic systems that designed to benefit the good of the few at the expense of the many. But I have hope that despite everything we do that is pro-death, God is pro-life. And as Malcom said in Jurassic Park, “life will find a way.

 

 

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Ephesians: You’re Special

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us  even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul offers a good mix of theological insight and practical advice. It’s the practical advice, invoking first-century household codes, that most people probably associate with Ephesians, and I’m with Rachel Held Evans in thinking these are grossly misinterpreted and applied in the twenty-first century. I think Paul’s intent in advising adherence to Greco-Roman societal norms was more along the lines of “keep a low profile and pick your battles” in order to stay out of unnecessary trouble. Some trouble was unavoidable, because the early Christians insisted that Jesus, rather than Caesar, was Lord, and that loyalty wasn’t negotiable. Why add to the trouble they were facing by behaving in socially provocative ways that had nothing to do with their faith in Christ? Why distract from the main Christian message? Imagine someone shouting something while standing in the middle of a busy freeway, barefoot and wearing only a loincloth. His words might be entirely reasonable and true, but it’s unlikely they would be given much credence, and he might get run over. The principle of living within commonly accepted cultural norms is still a good one, but I think we do Paul a disservice when we insist that the examples he used to illustrate this principle are treated as permanent rules for all people living in all times and places. In fact, I think we risk doing exactly what Paul hoped the Ephesians would avoid: being a distraction to the main Christian message. If people get frustrated in heaven, I can just imagine him doing a face-palm when he sees how his words are being misused today.

Rather than the household codes, it is Paul’s theology that caught my attention on my read-through of Ephesians this year. He uses the language of poetry and metaphor to try and communicate the good news: God thinks we’re pretty special. We are blessed, chosen, adopted, heirs to a fortune. God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” and we are “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ”. This is not because of anything we have done or not done, but because of the nature of God.“God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” and  “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—  not the result of works, so that no one may boast” God does not plan to abandon or destroy humanity, but to redeem and restore it to what he always intended it to be.”He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. And he invites and expects us to join him in “making it so”.“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

It’s easy for me to be overwhelmed and discouraged by all that is going on in the world today, for “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men”. Paul’s words to the Ephesians remind me of not only the confidence we have in God, but of the confidence God has in us.  One of my favorite quotes is “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” which to me, means that God has built a moral law into the fabric of the universe, and that moral law is built on love, of which justice is a part. However, I recently read a political opinion piece which observed that “the arc doesn’t bend by itself”.As I understand it, bending the arc is exactly what God has invited us to do. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone in it did a better job of doing the good works- acts of kindness, justice, and love- which God intended to be our way of life.

I believe God, and love will win. In spite of, and through us. And that’s good news to me!