Volume 29 - Issue 1
Living in a World where Life is Cheap: The Relevance of the Book of Deuteronomy and the Sixth Commandment for the Debate on the Sanctity of Human Life.By Melvin Tinker
At the time it was published back in 1948, Shirley Jackson’s, The Lottery, created a storm of outraged moral protest. The story is set in a small town somewhere in rural America. In it the townsfolk gather for some sort of ritual which is obviously critical for the well-being of the crops. At the centre of everyone’s thoughts is ‘The Lottery’. The story gradually builds up to a stunning climax when it becomes clear just what the lottery is for—deciding on a human sacrifice. Tessie Hutchinson, wife, mother and neighbour chooses the slip of paper containing the dreaded black spot. Instantly she finds herself isolated in the centre of a cleared space and even her little son Davey has pebbles in his hand ready to stone her to death. ‘It isn’t fair’, she screams. But nothing can stop the ritual. The story ends with a sickening thud and the words: ‘and then they were upon her.’
From the late 1940s throughout the 50s and 60s the story had been the subject of discussion amongst American high school students. The story was so well told, the moral so powerful, that it invariably engaged the student’s sense of right and wrong. That has now changed.
One night Kay Haugaard was leading a class discussion on ‘The Lottery’ in which she registered no moral response at all amongst her students—nothing. ‘The end was neat!’, said one woman. ‘It was all right. It wasn’t that great’, said another. ‘They just do it’ one argued, ‘It’s their ritual’—as if to say—what is there to get so upset about? One woman in the class, a stylish woman in her forties who normally wrote passionately about saving whales and the rain forest, couldn’t summon up even a modicum of concern for the sacrificed victim. Haugaard reported her disturbing findings in The Chronicle of Higher Education and concluded: ‘No one in the whole class of more than twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice.’1
One may well respond by saying that it is only a story and perhaps with the increasing number of violent images which people are subject to on the TV and cinema screens today, it is not surprising that this story appears tame and anodyne in comparison and elicits little emotional response.
Here, then, is a true story about a newborn baby, called Baby Garcia, which took place in a major hospital in Los Angeles. This is the way the nurse involved, called Jennifer, related the events:
One night a nurse on my shift came up to me and said, ‘Jennifer, you need to see the Garcia baby’. There was something suspicious about the way she said it, … She led me to a room the nurses used for their breaks. Women were smoking and drinking coffee, their feet up on the stainless steel counter. There, lying on the metal, was the naked body of a newborn baby. ‘What is the baby doing here on this counter?’, I asked timidly. ‘That’s a preemie born at 19 weeks’, she said. ‘We don’t do anything to save them unless they are 20 weeks.’ I noticed the chest fluttering rapidly. I picked him up for a closer look. ‘This baby is alive!’ I exclaimed. I thought they hadn’t noticed. Then I learned the horrible truth. The nurses knew, and it didn’t matter. They had presented the baby to its mother as a dead, premature child. Then they took him and tossed him on the cold, steel counter in the lunch room. I did the one thing I could think of. I held him in his last moments so he’d at least have some warmth and love before he died. Just then one of the nurses—a large harsh woman—burst into the room. ‘Jennifer, what are you doing with that baby?’ she yelled. ‘He’s still alive …’, I pleaded. ‘He’s still alive because you are holding him’, she said. Grabbing him by the back with one hand, she snatched him from me, opened one of the stainless steel cabinets, and pulled out a specimen container with formaldehyde in it. She tossed the baby in and snapped the lid on it. It was over in an instant. Jennifer went on to say, ‘To them this child wasn’t human. In seven more days he would have qualified, but at 19 weeks he was just trash’.2
Welcome to our ‘brave new world’. Such stories could be multiplied. This one is mentioned not simply to shock gratuitously, but in order to alert us to the kind of world we have been busy creating for ourselves—a world in which God has been declared dead—of no significance—where absolutes of right and wrong have been swept away only to be replaced by spurious ‘feeling’ and ‘what works for me’ moralities, and in which human life has inevitably become very cheap. Ours has become the throwaway society, and perhaps now Christians are just beginning to realise how much is being thrown away. Whereas, 40 years ago, more or less everyone in the West would have cited the sixth commandment, ‘You shall not kill’, with ease and conviction, now we can only subscribe to the eleventh commandment, ‘You shall not judge’.
We, however, are not to think that there is no intellectual force behind such developments. The case for euthanasia and infanticide is being put forward as a serious proposition based upon naturalistic assumptions. As a result we have Peter Singer, in his book Practical Ethics,3 taking as his starting point what he calls ‘the principle of equal consideration of interests’. That is the view that the interests of all human beings must be taken into account when assessing the consequences of an action. He argues that this principle extends to other sentient beings who can suffer, and only such beings can be said to have ‘interests’. He puts forward the view that human beings can be thought of in two ways—as belonging to the species Homo sapiens, or being a person. He defines a person as a ‘self-conscious or rational being’ who can therefore act as an agent in making decisions. He wants to maintain that some primates are also self-conscious to some extend and so could be described as persons. Being a member, therefore, of the speciesHomo sapiens is not a sufficient, or necessary, reason for being conceived as a person. This has very far-reaching effects. It means that adult primates are persons but a newborn infant is not. It is therefore not intrinsically wrong to kill a newborn baby who is not self-conscious whereas it would be wrong to kill an animal who is supposed to be self-conscious. Singer does not suggest that newborn children should be killed if they are healthy and wanted, but that they could be if they were unhealthy and unwanted. He says that strict conditions should be placed on permissible infanticide, but that ‘these restrictions might owe more to the effects of infanticide on others than to the intrinsic wrongness of killing an infant’.
If we are going to withstand the flow of the world into increasing violence, infanticide and euthanasia, we must be able to offer more than platitudes—we must be able to offer a well thought out alternative which we seek to live out. This, of course, is precisely what the early Christians had to do. It is interesting that Singer, who rejects a theistic framework for ethical thinking, has this to say:
If we go back to the origins of Western civilisation, to Greek or Roman times, we find that membership of Homo sapiens was not sufficient to guarantee that one’s life would be protected. Greeks and Romans killed deformed or weak infants by exposing them to the elements on a hilltop. Plato and Aristotle thought that the state should enforce the killing of deformed infants. The change in Western attitudes to infanticide since Roman times is, like the doctrine of the sanctity of human life of which it is a part, a product of Christianity. Perhaps it is now possible to think about these issues without assuming the Christian moral framework that has, for so long, prevented any fundamental reassessment.
Surely this is one of our greatest challenges as theologians. That we equip God’s people who are constantly being bombarded with values and ideas which run contrary to God’s Word in such a way that these people don’t simply go with the flow, but become truly counter-cultural. How are we going to enable them to think Christianly and so act Christianly? This will mean more than referring to set ‘proof texts’, like the sixth commandment, but showing what undergirds them, how the function within the wider matrix of God’s dealings with his world as Creator-Redeemer.
Interestingly enough it was into a world not that dissimilar to ours that the commandment ‘You shall not murder’, which is the correct rendering of the Hebrew word (ratsach), was delivered. It too was a world that treated life as cheap—hence the gruesome tale in Exodus 1 of the Pharaoh ordering all the Jewish baby boys to be thrown into the Nile to be drowned—infanticide. This was a world of human sacrifice with Cannanite babies being thrown into the fire to appease the god Moloch. Why then did this vagabond rabble which had the audacity to call itself a nation, believe that all forms of unlawful killing of human beings were morally reprehensible? What was it made them think that they were right and all the other nations wrong? It was because of three beliefs which underlie the sixth commandment and which are woven into the whole fabric of the Book of Deuteronomy: That life is a gift, that life is on loan and that life is to be redeemed.
The Belief that Life is a Gift
We live in the age of human rights, although if there is no God and no transcendent source of values it is very difficult to see upon what basis an appeal to ‘rights’ can be made—natural law has been replaced by positive law. Christians, however, have always defended the notion of rights because God himself underwrites our value. In Deuteronomy 4:32 we read: ‘Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth.’ God was not obliged to create us, as Karl Barth reminded us, this God is no ‘lonely God’ for even his creation is an expression of his nature the fact that he is a gracious God. Back in Genesis 2:7 it is God who forms man from the dust of the earth and breathes into man ‘the breath of life’—nephesh hayyim, with the result that Adam becomes a living being—nephesh hayah. Unlike the bringing about of the rest of creation we see a special intimacy here, The ‘Lord God’—Yahweh-Elohim—the covenant—creator God—breathes into Adam the gift of life. Human beings are repeatedly declared to be made in ‘his image’—Genesis 1:26–28, which is why murder is considered to be a particularly horrific crime. Not only is it a crime which is irreversible—(in theory at least if you steal something it can be returned, if you lie, you can then tell the truth, but if you kill, you cannot bring back the dead); but also attacking the image bearer is tantamount to attacking the one whose image we bear—God.
Think of it like this: You have a photograph of yourself taken at a moment which was very precious to you—perhaps when at school or a wedding. It is unique, irreplaceable, it evokes some of the most precious memories for you. Imagine that someone comes along and takes that photograph. It doesn’t mean much to them, so they spit on it, desecrate it, tear it up and throw it away. How would you feel? It’s only an ‘image’—but it is still important. The act of desecration is significant. Multiply that by infinity and then we will have some idea of how God feels when one of his image bearers is callously disposed of. Back in Genesis 9, is the reason given why God instituted capital punishment. Verse six tells us:
Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God, God has made man.’
In the words of one writer, Paul Ramsey, to take away an innocent life is ‘to throw the gift of life back in the face of the Giver.
Life is on Loan
This is the second belief which underlies the sixth commandment. These commandments begin by reminding the people who it is they are dealing with—verse six, ‘I am the Lord your God’. The word for ‘god’ in Hebrew is Elohim, but then the ‘gods’ of the other nations were called ‘Elohim’. It is a great mistake to think that simply because we use the word ‘god’ in a conversation it means that we are talking about the same thing as our friends. The true and living God is distinguished from the false and non-existent gods in that he revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush as ‘I AM’. That is, he is the self-existent one, so unlike anyone or anything else we might conceive, and in this he is holy—totally distinct. He depends upon no one, whereas everyone else is dependent upon him—our life is contingent. He is the Giver, existence is a gift. What is more, this is his covenant name—the one who has pledged himself to the well-being of his people, so that their purposes are bound up with his loving purposes for the world. Therefore by virtue of God being the creator, let alone Lord and redeemer, he has owner’s rights over each individual. It is no doubt significant that the composite title Yahweh-Elohim occurs 20 times in the narratives of Genesis 2–3, and only once elsewhere in the Pentateuch—but is absent in 3:1–5. This is no doubt because the writer wanted to emphasise that Yahweh is both Israel’s covenant partner and the God of creation itself. The deity that is spoken of in 3:1–5 is depicted by the serpent as one who does not have the best interests of his people in view, and it is because of this that the term Yahweh, which signifies such a commitment to people’s well being, is dropped.
These commandments don’t hang in mid-air. They are not arbitrary or relative which we can make or unmake as we wish. They have the backing of God himself. They reflect his character as Lord—the creator-ruler. The reason that we should not lie, but keep our word, is because God keeps his word. The reason we should be faithful in our married relationships is because God is faithful in his relationship with his people. The reason why we shouldn’t murder is because God is the great life giver. The bitter irony is that in our sin, like Adam and Eve, we want to be like God in making up our own rules and that is when we are least like him. We are most like him, when we keep to his commandments, being as truthful, faithful, caring and honest as he is.
As the Lord he is sovereign, and as such, since life is a gift which he chooses to give or withdraw as he wills, that life is on loan. Life is not our absolute possession to do with as we see fit, but a gift to be treasured as God has decreed.
Some years ago there was a play which was later made into a film starring Richard Dreyfus, entitled Whose Life is it Anyway? It was the story of a highly intelligent individual, Ken Harrison, who in the prime of his life, was involved in an motor accident which left him completely paralysed, except for some slight head movement. The whole drama revolved around the following question: If life is our personal, private possession then, as with any other personal, private possession, the individual has the right to dispose of it as he or she chooses? Well, this man no longer wished to live and he wanted help to end his miserable existence. It was a very powerful film and you can guess in which direction it went. The view, however, that it is all a matter of personal choice is far too individualistic. These commandments are given to a community, to enable that community to function in the most wholesome way possible—reflecting the full life which God freely gives. Apart from the Bible’s answer to the question: ‘Whose Life is it anyway?’ being, ‘it is God’s’ absolutely and ours contingently, so it is not for us to do with as we please—there are more far reaching implications to consider. Even when it comes to the disposal of our own possessions we cannot simply do with them as we wish: for example, have property exchanged for money in order to spend it on hate literature—because the effects of our actions on the wider community has to be assessed. So if euthanasia were to be legalised (and the dividing line between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia can be a grey one as events in Holland have shown) what effect do we think that might have on the trust that is necessary for the doctor-patient relationship? Imagine it. Someone is in an old people’s residence. That nice young doctor comes to see you and offers them a pill. It is yellow today, not the normal pink colour. What thoughts would go through their mind? Will it not be something like: ‘Will this cure me or kill me?’ Trust is then replaced with suspicion.
We must also ask: what of the effect on the medical profession itself? The traditional motivation for doctors and nurses has been to strive in order to save lives. What becomes of that if they are legally required to take lives? How loving is that for them? Will it foster those traits of compassion and care we look for instinctively in what are called the ‘caring’ professions. Alternatively will it result in a hardening and the sort of callousness displayed by those nurses in that Los Angeles hospital? Bad actions corrupt good character. We are whole beings—we cannot function in Jekyll and Hyde mode—steeling ourselves up to end life in one part of the hospital and save life there in another section. Something will give way in the end and surely we know enough about human nature to know what that will be. It is that spark of humanity. Life is on loan and we are called to be its good stewards.
In pre-war Germany there was a permissive attitude towards euthanasia. There was an effort, led by Dr Karl Brandt, to eliminate the mentally and physically defective from the population. This programme put to death 275,000 people. In the light of the revelations at the Nuremberg trials, the BMA in 1947 issued a statement which could well be reissued today:
The doctors who were guilty of these crimes against humanity lacked both the moral and professional conscience that is to be expected of members of this honourable profession. The spirit of the Hippocratic oath cannot change and must be reaffirmed by the profession. It enjoins the duty of caring, the greatest crime being cooperation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion.
The hardening of the conscience has to begin somewhere and it is at least accelerated when society gives permission.
Life is to be Redeemed
The third belief which runs throughout Scripture is the fact that life has to be redeemed. In Deuteronomy life is seen as a great blessing—the gift of life in conception and the experience of life in longevity, lived out in God’s presence in the land. Both are linked to humble obedience in response to his covenant promises. Deuteronomy 6:1–3 states:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you.
Certainly this is more than physical-biological life, it is the spiritual life of a restored relationship with the one who has made us and for whom we were made and consequently with each other. This is after all the redeemed community of Israel to whom the commandments are given: ‘Hear O Israel I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ The indivisibility of God is basic to his self-revelation: 6:4—‘Here O Israel, the Lord your God is One’—the Shema. There is one God, who has chosen one nation and has given them one law. So these ten words for living not only reflect God’s character, they express God’s care, expressing the whole of his concern for the whole of his people.
So ‘life’ in all its fullness, we might say, is experienced in covenant relationship with God and his people. This also explains why the promised land in later Judaism is referred to as ‘the land of life’. Rabbi Tanhuma said, ‘The Land of Israel is called the land of life and Jacob’s hope to return to the land of Israel was his claim to his portion in the land of life.’ Those inside the land are in the ‘land of the living’, those outside are in the ‘land of the dead’—which would explain the phrase in Isaiah 53:8, that the Lord’s servant would be cut off from ‘the land of the living’. For Israel, then, ‘life’ was understood as both land and a way of life and both are dependent on the covenant with God. The former was his promise to the people, the latter the response of the people to the promise. To break the covenant meant in the deepest and profoundest sense possible to forfeit life and exchange it for death.
This fundamental view that life is a blessing and death a curse is particularly highlighted in Deuteronomy 28–30: for example take chapter 30:15–16:
See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess
God forged a people and he gave his law to enable them to live the good life and to be a model society to the world so that people would see the difference that knowing him makes and so would seek after him. This ‘missionary/witnessing’ element is very much to the fore in 4:5–8:
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
These people were meant to be distinctive and one of the things which was supremely distinctive, as we have seen, was their view of the sanctity of human life.
Furthermore, what shaped this distinctive approach to the sanctity of life amongst the Jews was not just the belief that God was Creator but the deep and certain knowledge that he was also redeemer. The value of the people was not intrinsic, it was given by virtue of the fact that they were redeemed—Deuteronomy 7:7–8:1:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
This in turn was to mould their attitudes and actions towards others less fortunate—hence their radical approach to the poor and slavery, Deuteronomy 15:11:
There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.
Not only had God’s redemption of this people in the past provide motivation for doing good and saving life, he also promises to redeem them in the future, see chapter 30:1–3:
When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come upon you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where he scattered you.
In other words, the ‘life’ of Israel was to be redeemed at some future point. This was a life that was to be understood much more fully than physical. It was the life of shalom, peace and wholeness, of restored relationships—of covenant.
This is where the sixth commandment links up with NT ethics. As is clear from chapters 28–30 of Deuteronomy, the paradigm nation which was meant to be a light to the surrounding nations, was to fail, so causing the reader to ask, when and in whom then will it be fulfilled? The answer is in Jesus. It is no accident that the book of Deuteronomy provides the backdrop against which the temptations of Jesus (Matt. 4:1–11) are to be understood—hence the quotations by Jesus from Deuteronomy. Here is the true Israel in the wilderness. The One who does heed the Word of God and whose mission to the cross, rather than the following of the way of the nations (bowing the knee to Satan in order to receive earthly kingdoms) fulfils the mission which lies at the heart of the book as we have seen in Deuteronomy four. He does so by taking onto himself the curses contained at the end of the book, so making sense of his own death in the light of chapter 21:22–23; ‘Cursed is anyone hung on a tree.’ (cf Gal. 3:10–14).
What we are meant to see in Israel as a community, is meant to reflect the image of God, which is to be understood supremely in terms of ‘relationships’—the reflection on earth of the Trinitarian relationship in heaven. This is seen perfectly in Jesus who is described as the ‘image of the invìsible God’, Colossians 1:15. How is the image expressed? First: it is shown by how the Son relates to the Father in humble obedience and service (which should have been modelled in Israel, Deut. 6:3). In John 5:19 therefore we read: ‘The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his father doing’. This is the apprentice Son par excellence as Israel was meant to be an apprentice or model. Second: Jesus relates to others in serving—through his teaching and healing and supremely his death (I am among you as one who serves—Luke 22:27). The image of God in Christ is also expressed through the way he relates to the rest of creation—hence the stilling of the storm (Mark 4:35–41). This ties back to Genesis 1:26–28 which underscores the function of humankind in the world, so verse 26c is a purposive clause—‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness in order that they may have dominion.’ What Adam, God’s son, was meant to be—relating properly to God, the world and other people in terms of kingly-priestly service, and God’s other son, Israel, was meant to be—a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:3b ff). Jesus the second Adam and the true Israel is in perfection as the king-priest.
Could it not be then, that the image of God is not so much something simply within us, as something expressed between us?4 So it is more to do with asking whether we represent the life and character of God to others? If that is the case then what we should be asking on matters of life and death, is not ‘Is this someone who is made in God’s image and who should be treated in this way?’ Rather we should be asking is this the way those who express God’s image should be relating to each other? In Israel, the laws that are in Deuteronomy were meant to enhance relationships in the community. In Jesus we see what that means in practice. Here is one who does not take life, but restores life, who will not break a bruised reed or quench and smouldering wick.
In his excellent book on the relationship between the Christian faith and science, Rebuilding the Matrix, Denis Alexander succinctly puts the matter in these terms:
In Christian theism humans are made in ‘the image of God’. This expression is first introduced in the biblical text in the context of the responsibilities given to human kind to care for the earth and its biological diversity. In this scenario, humans are delegated by God to be his ‘earth keepers’. The image of God is not therefore so much a static concept, referring to human reason, or free will, or other particular intrinsic qualities, but rather to the dynamic relational status of humans to God, in particular regarding those delegated responsibilities. These moral responsibilities are given not just to a few individuals but to the whole of humankind. A severely disabled infant, for example, may never be able to contribute very much, if anything, individually to fulfilling these delegated responsibilities, but nevertheless is part of the human community that as a whole carries this moral obligation on its shoulders.5
It is this relational basis for ethics which might help us when we consider issues of life and death. Instead of getting bogged down over abstract questions of ‘personhood’: ‘Is this one before me (a foetus or comatose individual) someone who should be accorded the same rights of protection as myself?’ We should think of ourselves, like Israel, as being people thrown together by covenantal relations. I relate to this person as a mother, doctor, son, brother, sister and so on. Such relationships are based on trust and entail obligations. If a woman miscarries, especially late, she feels she has not lost a conceptus, but a baby. Even after death and one is left holding the hand of a loved one, we recognise that the body echoes the person. As Stanley Hauerwas entitled one of his essays, ‘He may not be much of a person, but he is still my Uncle Charlie’. The identity and worth of an individual is grounded in relationship with others, as was the identity and worth of Israel and indeed Jesus himself—their relationship with God the Father.
One of the reasons why we find ourselves with rootless ethics in the West and cannot sustain the notion of the sanctity of human life for much longer, is because we are losing the notion of covenantal relationships. There is the increased move towards cohabitation away from marriage. There is the breakdown of the family and so a weakening of relationships and with that a sense of responsibility, why else is it difficult for the Child Support Agency to get absentee fathers to give? There is the breakdown of community—the only community that seems real for most people outside of their family, is the workplace. The city and the town do not necessarily help to foster the notion of belonging. And now virtual communities are being constructed in cyberspace with chat rooms and the like. This is all accentuated by the over preoccupation with the self, but even this is disappearing fast in our postmodern world, as the concept of ‘self’ is being deconstructed. Man is simply disappearing and with him the notion of the sanctity of life.
The challenge for members of the redeemed community is to demonstrate that there is a better way. This means that we must teach on these issues. The Bible is not just concerned with ‘personal morality’ as we have seen the commandments come to us within the context of a redeemed community. As local churches reflect the redeemed community of the heavenly church, then that is where people in our disintegrating world should be able to look and say as, the surrounding nations of Israel should have said, ‘Look, these are a wise and understanding people’. We should be providing as much support as possible for those of our members in the so-called caring service, not only in helping them to think these matters through biblically, but also to support them emotionally as they will often feel drained and battered. We, however, must also demonstrate to, and remonstrate with the world that we are willing to get our hands dirty—maybe helping with pregnancy counselling, post abortion counselling, visiting and supporting the terminally ill. These are some of the practical implications of the sixth commandment.
Is the commandment ‘You shall not murder’ applicable today? The obvious answer is ‘yes’. The drive towards getting rid of unwanted lives increases as each year passes, given that we have no real reasons for valuing a human being. Christians, however, can point the world to an alternative—the only alternative which will save us from our continued descent into barbarism.
Towards the end of his life, the great evangelical thinker, Dr Francis Schaeffer devoted himself to a project entitled ‘Whatever happened to the human race?’. In this book he sought to encourage Christians to stem the drift towards more abortion, infanticide and euthanasia. He ends the book with these words:
Future generations will look back, and many will either scoff or believe in Christ on the basis of whether we Christians of today took a sacrificial stand in our various walks of life on these overwhelmingly important issues. If we do not take a stand here and now, we certainly cannot lay any claim to being salt and light in our generation. We are neither preserving moral values and the dignity of the individual nor showing compassion for our fellow human beings. Will future generations look back and remember that at least there was one group who stood consistently, whatever the price, for the value of the individual, thus passing on some hope to future generations? Or are we as Christians going to be swept along with the trends—our own moral values becoming increasingly befuddled, our own apathy reflecting the apathy of the world around us, our own inactivity sharing the inertia of the masses around us, our own leadership becoming soft?’6
The challenge is still very much with us. After all, the commandment is clear ‘You shall not murder’.
1 Cited by Os Guiness in Time for Truth (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 2000), 21–24.
2 Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998).
3 Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), 88, 169, 171–72.
4 For an excellent development of this thesis see, Gordon Preece, ‘Ethics and the End of Life’ in The Ethics of Life and Death, (Lancer, 1990, ed. B.G. Webb).
5 Denis Alexander, Rebuilding the Matrix (Oxford: Lion Publishing, 2001), 466–67.
6 Francis A Schaeffer, Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1980).
The Reverend Melvin Tinker is senior minister of St John, Newland, Hull, UK. He has contributed a number of articles to Themelios over the years and is the author of several books, his latest being Intended for Good: The Providence of God (IVP, 2012).