Wednesday 21st April Does this command preclude war?
Exodus 20: 13
You shall not murder
The Hebrew for Sixth Commandment consists of two words, usually translated, “You shall not murder.” Can we build a doctrine against war (or determine that this commandment doesn’t apply to state-prosecuted warfare) on the basis of these two words? Short answer: no; not on any single verse.
There is – and perhaps always will be – a difference of opinion around pacifism within the United Reformed Church but there is certainly a long tradition of this conviction being held by our members.
Equally, we have URC Ministers serving as chaplains in the armed forces, and many of our number either have or are still serving in the military. Military service during war or peace time does not equate to being bloodthirsty or careless of human life.
Personally, I cannot foresee any circumstances in which I would be willing to take the life of another human being, made in the image of God, although some would be willing to do that in certain circumstances.
What of Exodus 20:13? Does “murder” cover warfare? My Theological Dictionary tells me that the root of the Hebrew word that we translate as “murder” has a deeper and broader base beyond pre-meditated crime. The religious Law provided for vengeance killings (quasi-judicial execution?) Dig deeper and we see that it is the shedding of innocent blood that is most strictly forbidden. Is an enemy during war innocent? History shows that many are pressed (by legislation or by peers) into service during times of war. Their acts may become less “innocent,” but they may not have entered warfare for ideological reasons. Anyone drawn into war will have to wrestle with this.
As for me, and I hope my house, serving the Lord precludes me “joining up” to fight wars.
Loving God, Jesus taught us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. Is it more loving to kill to protect another, or a nation’s way of life, or to see the image of God, in my “enemy” and risk my own life? We pray for all facing this dilemma or daily choice. Bless them with your Holy Spirit to guide and protect them and lead them to make wise choices. Amen.
The Rev’d Steve Faber, Synod Moderator, West Midlands Synod