- Gilbert Meilaender
Chapter 4: The Life Bond
“You shall not kill.” (Exodus 20:13)
The life bond, uniting all human beings as it does, is likely to seem less intense and more abstract than the special relationship we share with a spouse or a family member.
“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar.For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have no seen.” (1 John 4:20)
The claim to love God is empty, if we do not love the brother or sister whom we see daily. With good reason, one of the best prayer books invites us to pray: “Forbid that I should refuse to my own household the courtesy and politeness which I think proper to show to strangers. Let charity to-day begin at home.” What begins at home should not end there, however – a truth that is underscored by the fifth commandment.
The Life Bond in Creation
There are two reasons for affirming a life bond that unites all human beings.
1. All have been made in the image of God, and hence, each must see others as his equal.
2. Even apart from the God-relation, we all share a common bond of humanity.
The covenant that God makes with Noah and his descendants after the flood focuses on the bond that unites all human lives.
“Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image.” (Genesis 9:6)
The special relation humankind has to the Creator becomes more clear when we remind ourselves who the Creator is. He is the One who in Jesus, the incarnate Son of the Father, has taken human life into his own divine life. When we see the face of Christ in every human race, we realize that the commandment to respect the life of every human being as Christ shares our life with us.
God’s special care for humanity is sheer grace. How should we fittingly respond to it? With joy in the gift of God bestows on us and on others. The commandment reminds us that God’s special care for humanity should evoke in us gratitude beyond imagination.
It is no surprise that we are commanded not to kill.
God makes the gift of life to each of us and we have a duty to respect not only the lives of others but also our own. It is part of the glory of our human nature to rise above animal instinct for self-preservation in order to serve others.
The prohibition of suicide matters. The simple fact that one commit suicide has no opportunity to repent does not settle the question of that person’s eternal destiny. If I begin to think of my life as mine to take if I wish, or the more willing I am to judge whether my life continues to have a point or is worth preserving, the more I may be tempted to make similar judgement about other’s lives.
We find it quite natural to think to ourselves and say to others, “This is my life. Why shouldn’t I be able to do with it as I please, so long of course as I hurt no one else in the process?”
The basic premise – the idea that I may do whatever I want with my life – is not really true. There are many things – including things that harm no one else – that even our relatively secular society will not authorize me to do. There are many things that I am I am not entirely free to do with my life as I please.
Our lives are always connected to others – as connected as we were since the beginning of time. If we can see simply by the light of reason, we know as Christians that the Author of our being has authority over us and bear witness to us in our lives.
The Life Bond in Need of Healing
The Spirit of Christ has already been given as a guarantee of the promised redemption yet to come, but we are in need of healing and must for a time live in expectation of what has been promised.
When human life is threatened, God intervenes to protect those who are endangered, passing judgement on wrong and punishing wrongdoers. And no, it is not in the form of lightning bolts from heaven, but through human agents and institutions.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of him who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for his is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain; he is the servant of God to execute his wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:1,3-4)
We see God’s work of judgement, retribution, and protection daily in those who exercise the police power in our society. This becomes more apparent when governments wage war, and it may not be physical warfare that is involved.
What should our stance be living in a world deeply scarred by sin?
There are many that point towards a Christian pacifist stance where they are not simply opposed to the use of force, but are committed to the belief that they can trust God to care for his creation. Leave it up to God.
However, I believe we are allowed to wage war against evil if there are no other way to try to achieve a just and lasting peace. But there is often no way to wage war in a manner so unrestrained that it destroys any chance of actually achieving such a just, enduring social order.
It is important to see and distinguish between what we do and what is accomplished by our doing. Even if we have a particular way of acting, the action is likely to produce several results, good and bad. Without some distinction, anyone able and willing to would act in a way that he/she feel required. It is what it means to be creatures whose love and care for other must always love and care within limits.
But this does not mean we must always do everything within our power to keep one who is ill alive. We should always choose life, not death, but the life we choose need not be the longest one available. One may choose a life that is free of burdensome treatments, even if it is shorter than what might be possible. We should choose life, even if sometimes that only means how to live while dying.
The Life Bond and the Promised Redemption
While sickness is an encroachment on the gift of life, aging is itself a part of the life each of us is given. To many, our destiny is as mysterious as God is mysterious. We are made for something more than this created life – made to understand and when our thirst has been satisfied, we will know the serious joy of Heaven.
Unless we are still living when the risen Lord returns in glory, we will have to make our way to that day through death.
A Christian funeral is not a memorial service, not a celebration of life, it is an occasion that transports the newly deceased to the borders of a changed reality.
The entire Christian life is a pilgrimage a journey that begins at baptism and moves toward the new creation that the risen Christ now lives and promises will be ours.
The life bond is a bond we share in our bodies – bodies that we believe will one day be raised with Christ in the new creation. The last stage of our earthly pilgrimage should bear witness to that hope.
One thing about the redeemed life God promises is certain. By the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, “we will be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
For the moment, we may be tempted to think of this simply as a command, something we are to accomplish. But when we understand fully as we have been fully understood, we will come to see that it is a promise – the promise of a genuine redeemed life in which there will no longer be any need to distinguish enemies from friends, since in that day no enemies will remain for us.