This past Wednesday night we had a bible study a our house. It was a fairly casual study, meant more for fellowship than for anything else but we had a short conversation about the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20. As we continued through each commandment one by one, talking about all that they meant and mean for us today, it was as though the commandments were a faded mirror. In each commandment, yes we saw what it must have meant to an Israelite slave in the dessert near the Sinai, but we also saw ourselves. We saw what God meant for us to be. We began to orient our own identities around the worship of God, the participation in the rhythm of His work in the work, and the consideration of others. We looked into that mirror with each particular commandment on that famous list of covenant agreements, with each one being very introspective until we got to one in particular. Whereas we naturally saw ourselves, the plank in our own eyes, and our obligations to the covenant in the previous commandments, when it came to "you shall not murder" I was very disappointed with where the conversation went. The discussion about this commandment was focused on how sick and demented all those "murderers" are and how our state is screwed up because we're not allowed to kill those "murderers" (does anyone else see the irony?). Apparently we could all see that the previous commandments were things with which we we ourselves should be concerned, but murder is a command which is reserved for a select group in society, a bunch of psychotic murderers.
Unfortunately "you shall not murder" is a command that not only the deranged and psychotic are guilty of breaking. Murder is much more complex than the simple cold-blooded and premeditated taking of an other's life. During the Holocaust it was enlightened western thinkers who decided that the best and most practical way to solve their horrible economic issues was to disregard some people and push them into a dark corner of their memory--to push them aside, out of sight and out of mind. Few had any direct or intimate knowledge of what was happenning to them in those camps and frankly, few cared. The root of the issue is our desire to forget and to push aside the inconvenience of worry even if that inconvenience manifests itself as a human life. Whenever we choose to ignore a life because it is somewhere between us and our comfort or self-justification, the logical outcome will be the death of our inconvenience. A life forgotten is a life ended. The most practical thing to do when someone is in the way is to get them out of the way by forgetting them until they cannot be forgotten anymore and are completely out of our way. Therefore murder is not just psychotic, it's practical. And at it's root lies something of which we are all guilty... ignorance and our need to forget. With such great poverty in the world, it only makes sense to ignore some lives and forget them because it is impractical to insist that all lives should be saved. If we, like God, really had the memory of the poor always in our faces we would never be able to make a profit for ourselves so we have to brush them away from our faces, which may be as good as murder. We practically have to take advantage of people to get ahead in this world and it's just easier to do that if we forget about them. Whenever we are addicted to "practicality" and "getting ahead" the most practical thing to do is murder. It's also the most practical thing to do with a murderer, they're a problem for society and so problems are best dealt with when they are removed. True reconciliation is just impractical.
Murder is indeed something that we ourselves should be concerned with. But who wants to see themselves as guilty of murder? I didn't do anything to those people... they're on the other side of the world. It's just a guilt-trip tactic for you to connect my innocent suburban life to the poverty, starvation, and genocide in the third world. So it's better if we just close our eyes.
The fact is, despite how "practical" it may be to solve our problems by getting them out of our way, by disposing of them, God still tells the people who wish to enter into covenant with Him "you shall not murder." The plank might still be stuck in your eye.
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