When working through the Ten Commandments, the sixth command, the command to not murder, seems overly simplistic needing little interpretation. Murder, the intentional killing of another human being, has been almost universally condemned in every culture since the beginning of time. Debates have raged over what exactly constitutes murder (Is war included? Capital punishment?), yet even in the debate, few would ever justify murder as morally acceptable. In order to ensure a safe community, murder must be eliminated. Thus, it seems only natural for the LORD our God to include a command against murder for the covenant with Israel. It needs no further explanation.
While a command against murder needs no real explanation, God has never been solely concerned with outward actions, but with the heart and attitude which inform the actions. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, makes clear that one who is living a righteous life is not just to avoid killing another human being, but even to avoid being angry with another human being. It is the heart, Jesus says, that is most important. God is not just trying to ensure right behavior, God is trying to form a community that acts and responds with the heart of God. Thus when considering the command not to murder, the important step is not to define what exactly constitutes murder, but to imagine, what is the type of community God is trying to form.
Isaiah paints a picture in chapter 11 of one aspect of what the future kingdom will be like. After speaking of how a root will sprout up out of the stump of Jesse, and the Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him, Isaiah speaks of the type of world this “Messiah” will create.
“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11:6-9)
Isaiah says that among other things, the Messiah is going to usher in a community at peace. It will not be a community of violence and hatred. Instead, even the wolf and the lamb will lie down together. Even those who used to be enemies will be friends. No one will hurt another. Why? Because the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. When the new creation comes, the reality will change, and all communities will be peaceful.
It’s a beautiful picture of what the world will one day become. It’s a reality we all long to become real. Yet, we know it’s a future promise because the present is not peaceful. The present world is full of evil and darkness. Violence and hatred at times rule our present world. With so much evil in our present world, at times we wonder if there is any way we can live at peace now. We wonder if our peacefulness will only lead to more violence, allowing evil to act as it will. Because of those questions, we are tempted to take up the sword, responding to evil with power and might in order to overpower the evil forces in our world.
But is that the way God wants us to live? Does God want us to live into our broken past, or into our bright future? Did God redeem us from slavery so that we could continue to live broken lives, lives defined by violence and the mistreatment of others, or did God set us free to live even now as the new creation in the midst of the old; a sign pointing toward a good future? Even though our present world, at times, is defined by violence, should we continue to participate in that violence, or should we find ways to point toward a better future; a more perfect way?
Because the new creation will be a community of peace, God calls us to live at peace even now. This includes avoiding murder, but it also involves so much more. At the very least, we must choose to no longer wage war or defend ourselves by using the weapons of our fallen world. We should be a people who voluntarily choose to lay our weapons down, not because we think we will cause the entire world to abandon war, but because as members of God’s kingdom we refuse to respond to violence with more violence.
But it goes deeper. Being a community at peace means that we honor all of life. We honor life in the womb, and also the lives of the aged. We don’t just promote anti-abortion polices, we also invest resources (including financial) in supporting mothers and babies so that economic and social factors are no longer the reason for abortions. We don’t just say we honor father and mother, but we spend time caring for and sharing life with those who because of age can no longer contribute to society in the same ways. A community at peace refuses to participate in economic practices that reward the rich, while the working poor are left behind robbing them of the resources needed to live a good life. We seek peace between all those who are different from us; culturally, economically, religiously, and socially. We would not push others away because they are different, but we would share tables in order to share life, and learn from each other.
To live this way in our culture would be to live into our good future. Far too often we make decisions based on what we think will be most effective in our broken world. But as the people of God, it is time for us not to live into our broken past, but to point toward our good future. The good future will happen, and our future will be defined by peace, when even the wolf and the lamb will lie down together.
We choose to live into that future even now; as a sign of the type of community God is forming, and as an invitation to a better way to live.