Murder in our Hearts

It would seem that of all the commandments, this prohibition against murder is the easiest one to fulfill. After all, comparatively few actually commit this act in their lifetimes. We are aware of our Lord’s expansion of this commandment to include anger and insults (Matt. 5:22), but it is very hard for most of us to make the connection between what seems to be common practice (anger and insults) with such a radical act of violence as murder. Perhaps Jesus was talking in hyperbole here like He does a few verses down when He suggest that we pluck out our eyes, or cut off our hands to avoid adultery?

To understand this commandment we need to look at the previous covenant that God made with all humanity through Noah (Gen. 9). The two prohibitions of this covenant tell us something about the human race since the fall from grace; the human race is bloodthirsty. We are not to eat the flesh improperly drained of its blood like animals do in the kill, and we are not to kill a fellow human being. Violence and animalistic behavior became so prevalent before the judgment of the flood that God placed requirements on the human race to protect the image of God in man. In fact, the only reason God gives us for not shedding human blood is because God made man in the image of God. To strike out against another person is really to strike out against God in a most concrete manner possible.

This sixth commandment of the Mosaic covenantal law code picks up on this old universal law. It tells us something uncomfortable about ourselves. There is murder in every human heart. We might even go so far to say that there is a monster in us all lurking within the depths of our soul, just below the surface of our consciousness. Given the right situation, all of us by nature, in spite of our outward civility and smiles, would do the act. Perhaps this explains why most of us, even Christians, are so fascinated with murder mysteries and violence on the media; on some level it is vicarious murder without actually involving our own hands. How we ache to see the “bad guy” killed and justice served. By this we focus all our energies outwardly to the evil around us so that we are absolutely blind to the murder that is in our own hearts.

I have been reading the Brothers Karamazov lately. It is commonly believed in Orthodox Christianity that every human being bears guilt in every human crime. This is very mystical, and we certainly do not come about it with our reason, but somehow I find it a very arresting thought. Perhaps this is where Jesus wants us to go in His expansion of this commandment in the Sermon on the Mount were he equates anger and insults with murder. What violence rages within us! All violence is somehow our violence! Oh how we flare up against other persons made in the image of God with our own overinflated idea of justice. What would we do if the right buttons were pushed at the right time? What we must come to fear is not others and external evil as much as ourselves and what is inside of each of us. If we cannot see the murder in our own hearts we cannot see at all; we remain superficial and dangerous.

It is God’s law that opens up the truth about us. This knowledge is salvation. “Thy testimonies are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of the of Thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Ps. 119:129f.)

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