The Command to Love Human Life (Part 2)
The sixth commandment says, “You shall not murder.” It is a prohibition against taking innocent human life. But why? I recall having a good-natured though serious argument one time with a co-worker of mine about the treatment of animals. He contended that animals and humans were essentially the same and thus they deserved all the same rights and respect as humans. Although we did not argue this particular point, it follows from his position that mercy-killing for humans is just as acceptable as mercy-killing for animals. As our discussion progressed, it became clear that the foundation for his belief was Darwinian, biological evolution. You see, if evolutionary thought is true, then it is entirely logical that your life has no more intrinsic value than a chicken’s. So as we contemplate the sixth commandment it is important that we understand
The Basis of the Command
This command against taking innocent human life is rooted in the fact that human life is sacred. It is sacred for a very important reason. Gen 9:6 says “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.” The reason that human life is sacred is that God made man in his own image.
What does it mean for mankind to be made in God’s image? Augustine describes how prior to his conversion he struggled with this idea because he assumed that it meant that God was “bounded on all sides and confined within the shape of the human body” (Confessions, VI.iii (4) – VI.iv (5)). But this is clearly wrong. Our greatest insight into what it means to be in God’s image comes from the creation account in Gen 1:26-28.
1. Mankind is the image and likeness of God. The term ‘image’ refers to a physical representation of something. Six times it is used in the OT to refer to idols, that is, physical representations of a false god. Do you remember the story of the time the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant (1 Sam 5-6)? God sent plagues of mice and tumors on the Philistines because they took the ark of the covenant. When the Philistines returned the ark, they made images of mice and tumors out of gold as a guilt offering. These images were physical representations. It is also interesting to note that in the Ancient Near East, a king’s image (which was often closely associated with a god) represented his rule and authority. So when the Bible says that God made mankind in his image, it means that mankind is a physical representation of him. God created mankind, both male and female, as a living and faithful representation of himself. This does not mean that we are identical to God. Even the parallel term ‘likeness’ guards us against this notion. We are like God; we are not identical to him. We are not God. However, we are qualitatively distinct from all the rest of creation, for there is something about us that mirrors God. Mankind is the “finite replica of the infinite God” (Rolland McCune). Now, in order to be the image of God, mankind must be the kind of creature that can carry out that role. The Scripture does not give us a list of characteristics we possess which make us fit to be like God. But by comparing much of what we know from the Bible about God with what we know about ourselves, I believe we can at least say that mankind is a personal, spiritual, and moral being like God is. Every one of you here this morning is literally a representation of God. Every person you meet, no matter what his skin color, ethnic identity, intelligence level, place in society, education or background is a representative of God. He is like God. Recently, a married couple who are friends of ours gave birth to a baby with Down Syndrome. He will never be just like most of you are. But it matters not for the dignity and sacredness of his life. He is a personal being. He is a spiritual being. He is a moral being. He is a representation of God!
2. As we go on in this text, we find that God has a specific purpose for making us like him. The result of being made in God’s image is exercising dominion. We can literally say that mankind was created to be king of the earth under God. We represent God’s authority to this world. All legitimate human undertakings in this world are a function of exercising the authority of God which we represent.
So, when we think about the ‘image of God’ it means in its most simplified form that “man is like God and represents God” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 442). Or, to fill it out just a little bit, it means that mankind is a personal, spiritual, and moral being who is created to relate to God and to be his representative ruler on earth.
Do you see how this dignifies human life? This is an absolutely overwhelming thought. David meditated on this in Psalm 8:3-9. Notice his meditation. (1) Compared to this universe, man is small and insignificant. (2) Yet the Lord has given man a place of glory and honor. (3)This reflects the Lord’s majesty!
It is precisely this truth which leads to the requirement not to take innocent human life. This truth protects human life because it reveals how valuable human life is. Human life is not arbitrarily valuable; it is significant because it represents God!
For example, notice how this truth protects human life against suicide. It is very likely that some of you have had suicidal thoughts before, and so you know first hand what suicidal people think. “Life is not worth living any more. It is just a huge, black insurmountable mountain of problems. Nobody cares. Everyone would be better off if I were dead.” And in your mind you basically dig your own grave. This sometimes happens even to godly people. Adoniram Judson, the pioneering missionary to Burma, literally dug a grave for himself and sat on the edge of it, waiting to die. But he did not take his own life. He thought he was going to die because he was so sick, sorrowful, and worn out. But contrast suicidal thinking with David’s thinking in Psalm 8. God cares about your life. Your life is valuable because God makes it valuable, not because of you. That’s why it is not up to you to determine when you will die. God is the one who gives your life value, and only God can determine when your life will end.
Now, of course, we have these challenges because of sin in this world. It is important to realize that sin did not erase the image of God from man. But it did efface it. It twisted it and marred it, so that we no longer represent God as we should. It is not an accident that one of the first things that happened in the world after the entrance of sin was murder. Cain murdered his own brother Abel. When we rebel against God (which is what sin is), we also reject his representation in our fellow human beings. We attack those who get in the way of our autonomy, those who deny what we want (James 4:1-2). The basis of the prohibition against taking innocent human life is that human life is a representation of God and of his rule on this earth.
When we understand that the sixth commandment is rooted in the image of God in man, and when we understand that the image of God relates to us being like God and being his representative rulers on earth, I believe we have a key which opens a door for us into a sunlit atrium of God’s truth. The reason this is so is that human life connects to the deepest purposes and pleasures of God.
The Bible tells us how God is working to glorify himself by establishing his rule of loving sovereignty and fellowship with man, and by dwelling with us forever. He has created us to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. Human life is essential to God’s plan of filling his world with the delight and joy of himself. It is essential to God’s plan of magnificently demonstrating his presence and pleasure through his kingly rule. Can you see then why God would issue a command to love and protect human life?
But there is even more. What keeps God’s glorious rule from perfectly delighting his creatures? Sin. Mankind, starting with our first head Adam, has miserably failed to glorify and enjoy God like we should. We take the abilities he has given us as creatures made in his image, and we run wild in his universe, wrecking the universe and wrecking ourselves. Thus we bring God’s just wrath upon our sins – “the wages of sin is death.”
But God also did something absolutely amazing which once again highlights the dignity and sacredness of human life. He became a man. The eternal second person of the Triune God took to himself a true human nature, thus uniting in one person both a divine nature and a human nature, without at all confusing those two natures. He became Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man. He was and continues to be a real man.
As if that wasn’t amazing enough, consider the reason he became a man. He became a man in order to be murdered! And he was murdered in order to pay the death penalty for sin for all those who would believe in him. Romans 8:3-4 says this, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Jesus Christ became a man in order to be the representative for men and to die in their behalf for their sins. Amazing! By being murdered, he dealt with the problem of sin which causes murders in the first place.
Thus Jesus Christ became the second Adam, the one who fulfilled in himself everything human life was created to be. He restores human life to the dignity and value that God created it to have. He exercises the dominion perfectly that humanity was designed in God’s image to exercise. He reconciles men to God so that we can glorify and enjoy him forever! He makes it possible for us to delight in the glorious benevolence of the rule of God. And, he establishes forever the beauty and dignity of human life.
And now I call on you to respond to this truth. First of all, I would say that until and unless you have repented of your sinfulness against God and come to humble faith in Jesus Christ, the God-man, and what he has done on the cross, you will never really see the true value and dignity of human life. If you recognize the guilt of your sin, and you recognize what Jesus Christ has done to make your life what it ought to be – a life of worshiping and serving the one true and living God - then will you repent and believe?
For those who are believers, I hope you will take away from this a renewed appreciation for the sacredness of human life. God made it, and he delights in the reflection of himself in his creatures. Perhaps this message can motivate you to love your neighbor, your co-worker, your fellow church member. God became a man so that he could save men, and as men who are his creatures, we should love human life.