We who believe in the sanctity of human life are not just antiabortion. US sanction to kill nearly 50 million preborn babies in 38 years is simply America’s largest and most glaring violation of God’s image in human beings. That humans alone carry God’s image has other implications right down to our attitude toward someone we don’t like. It also puts as at odds with many in the animal rights movement whose propaganda makes no distinctions between people and other creatures.
But as we discussed last Sunday, our critics sometimes tell us we’re inconsistent. They ask, even in the case of murder, how can any of you support the death penalty? Isn’t that piling sin upon sin by taking the life of someone made in God’s image? And what about Christian soldiers who take the lives of men made in God’s image, on the battlefield? If Genesis 9:5-6 says that anyone who takes the life of a person is himself to be put to death, why is it alright for soldiers to kill in combat? (Listen to entire 1-16-11 sermon at http://www.keystonechurch.org/sermons.php.)
Here’s a little more on that last issue. I used to be a pacifist and pacifists insist that Jesus prohibited battlefield killings. They point to Matthew 5:38-42 where he replaced the OT “eye for an eye/tooth for a tooth” with a new ethic: instead of drawing your sword, give an evil person anything he asks for, do whatever he demands. In verses 43-47 he says instead of hating your enemies, “friend” them. He says that part of what sets us so radically apart from unbelievers is that we even love people who don’t love us.
But these are personal ethics. If you live on Oak St., this is how you treat everyone on Oak St. whether they’re nice, noisy, or nasty. This is how you treat all the kids at your school–not just the popular ones or ones who are nice to you. This is how you respond to everyone who asks you for something–whether they have a right to your stuff or not (uggh, I need some work here!).
But Jesus said nothing to suggest that He meant for the army to use these instructions as a military code of conduct. The job of the state is to defend its people and to do so requires the weapons (Romans 13:4), the readiness and the will to kill. Trouble arrives quickly if we expand what the Savior said to individuals, to all institutions.
That said, precisely because Christians believe even their enemies bear the image of God, soldiers who love and serve Jesus take life because they must, not because they enjoy it. Which distinguishes them from secularist soldiers who hate their enemy–or from religiously-driven soldiers who feel each kill earns them more points with their god.
General Sherman was right; war is hell. Yet men must stand ready to defend their nations or communities from the designs aggressors have on them. Neither Orwell nor Churchhill actually said it but the quote “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm”, reflects reality. Those who live in the world’s snake pits where it’s dangerous to sleep too soundly, understand all too well the peace that only strength can bring to a community or nation. Praise God that one day the Prince of Peace will reappear to put an end to it all!