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The motive for murder

by Ted Schroder

The sixth commandment prohibits murder. It does not prohibit the right to kill in self-defense for an individual, or a citizen in the service of the state. It can be argued that the death penalty is an act of self-defense on behalf of the state. God's words to Noah affirm the sanctity of human life: "I will demand an accounting from each man for the life of his fellow man. Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man." (Genesis 9:5,6) The historical teaching of the Christian Church has extended that protection to life in the womb, and life on the sick bed. We are called to care for one another, and not kill one another, or ourselves.

Because of our belief in eternal life, Christians understand that all human beings, no matter what their state of development, their mental capacity, their health, or the length of their mortal life, will be raised from the dead. The eternal destiny of every human being, according to Holy Scripture is Heaven or Hell. Termination of mortal life is not the last word. Life is a gift of God, and not ours to dispose of as we will.

On the wall of my study hangs an antique print in the Maori language, of Ezekiel 37:1-14. It is dated 1840, and is regarded as the first appearance of this portion of the Bible in Maori. This passage was chosen for its words: "Son of man, can these bones live?" to dissuade the Maoris from their ritual cannibalism. They were reminded by it that their victims would one day be resurrected, and that they would have to face the consequences of their actions.

Jesus applied this commandment to the motive for murder. "You're familiar with the command to the ancients, 'Do not murder.' I'm telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother 'idiot!' and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell 'stupid!' at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill." (Matthew 5:21,22. The Message)

Jesus upped the ante on the sixth commandment by warning us that the judgment of hell awaited those who let their anger control them. Angry thoughts and insulting words are weapons which we use against one another. St. John wrote, "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him." (1 John 3:15) "Anger and insult are ugly symptoms of a desire to get rid of somebody who stands in our way. Our thoughts, looks and words all indicate that, as we sometimes dare to say, 'we wish he were dead.' Such an evil wish is a breach of the sixth commandment." (John Stott, Christian Counter-Culture, p.85)

The first murder in the Bible is committed by Cain against his brother, Abel. It is the result of jealousy. Cain was very angry because he felt that God has been unfair with him. Instead of dealing with God he took it out on his brother. He thought that if he could get rid of his brother, he would feel better, and that he would have no rival. God said to Cain, "Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door, it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:6,7)

The thought is father to the deed. Cain's anger leads to his murdering his brother. The question God asks Cain is always the question we must answer. "Why are you angry?" When we fail to deal with our anger, it will result in destructive behavior. It will come out in irritation, frustration, and transference to others. Or, if repressed, it will go inwards to self-anger, in which the negative feelings result in depression. Either way it results in destructive and unhealthy effects upon our ability to relate to others.

Cain takes out his anger at God on his brother. At the heart of our anger is a sense of grievance, that life is unfair to us, that we are being taken advantage of, that others are not treating us as they ought. We want that person to be punished and removed from any further opportunity to hurt us. We think that their removal, their death, will bring us happiness. We feel that we are being inconvenienced by that life, and that we will be free if they are eliminated. We want them to die for us. Jesus tells us that the way of happiness, the way of freedom, the way of mastering our anger is to be found in the Cross, where God dies for us, and we are meant to follow his example in self-sacrifice. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." (1 John 3:16)

So much of the violence, and the murder, in this world, is due to anger that has been allowed to control people. Last week a gang of armed young men broke into the house of a friend of mine, Ben Kwashi, a fellow member of the Board of Trinity seminary in Pittsburgh, who is a bishop in Jos, Nigeria. They wounded the gateman, knocked his two sons (19 & 7) unconscious, and beat and tortured his wife, Gloria. He was away in England at the time. She is recovering after surgery. He emailed us his gratitude for our prayers and he said that "our sufferings and specifically the humiliation, blood, tears and pain of Gloria may result in great revival that will bring tremendous glory to God and to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ." His response was not revenge, and the encouragement of the cycle of violence that is afflicting Nigeria between Christians and Muslims, but prayer for a faithful witness to Jesus.

I can remember, some years ago, exploding in anger at home over something trivial, out of all proportion to what was happening. It was a symptom of something going on in my life that I was bringing home from work. "Why are you angry?" was the question which I needed answers to. I made an appointment with a counselor to explore the cause of my anger. If I didn't find out, the sin, which was crouching at my door, which desired to have me, and cause me to be destructive of my relationships with others, would master me. It would either kill me, through anger, depression, or other stressful behavior which would result in a heart attack or panic attack, or it would destroy my effectiveness in my job.

Anger can be caused or triggered through frustration or hurt. It is the consequence of frustration or the blocking of goals. When you desire something strongly and cannot get it, you become angry because your need is frustrated. Cain wanted God's favor. When he didn't get it he became angry. Much anger in politics is due to frustration at being unable to achieve what one wants. Politicians get angry at one another because they can't always get what they want. People in poverty get angry because they cannot get the jobs or the income and the lifestyle they want. Children get angry because they don't always get what they want. Dying people get angry with God or others either because they are not getting well, or they are not dying quickly enough. They want to be in control of their outcomes.

Anger can be caused by hurt. When we are criticized we get angry. We experience a strong desire to take revenge and to get back at the one who has hurt us. Anger causes us to lose control of ourselves. It motivates us to hate, wound, damage, despise, curse, scold and humiliate others.

How do you prevent the sin which is crouching at your door, which desires to have you, from mastering you? The answer of the New Testament is that we have to leave vengeance to God. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord." (Romans 12:19)

If we believe that there is a future judgment, and that our destiny is either Heaven or Hell, as Jesus has said, then we can be assured that our enemy will receive what is due to him. We have to trust that the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. It is God's prerogative to decide, not ours. We have to let go our need to be judge, jury and executioner.

In addition, we have to master the anger that crouches at our door. Either we control and dissipate our anger, or our anger will control us. If we give way to our anger, we are in danger of allowing demonic forces to come in the door of our lives, and destroying our peace of mind. If we let them take over they will fill our lives with resentment. But if we ask for the strength of the Cross of Christ to come between us and our anger, we can learn to surrender our feelings to the love of God. If we can learn to pray for our enemies, we can turn the other cheek. We will be filled with the powers of heaven to become a blessing to others, even our enemies.

John Rucyahana is a bishop in Rwanda. He serves on the Board of Directors of Prison Fellowship International, is Prison Fellowship's Rwanda Chairman, and is intimately involved in PFI's ministry to bring reconciliation in Rwanda, known as the Umuvumu Tree Project. It is based on confession, repentance, forgiveness, restitution and reconciliation. It targets those imprisoned for committing genocide, genocide survivors, or their surviving family members, and promotes public education. First, you must accept personal responsibility, then you must repent to God, and then you must seek forgiveness from those you have wronged or their heirs.

When he speaks of the torture, rape and murder of his niece in the 1994 Rwanda genocide, he tells of God's great forgiving love and how he came to forgive the men who had so brutally killed his beloved niece. "We must never forget," he said, "that Jesus forgave us while hanging on the Cross. He did not wait for the pain to subside, but in that moment of the most profound suffering, he forgave us."

Who do you need to forgive? Have you figured out where your anger is coming from? "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:31,32)

An audio version of this presentation is to be found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel,

Amelia Island, Florida

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