You Shall Not Kill—But Why? image

You Shall Not Kill—But Why?

Minutes after posting yesterday's brief comments on the sixth commandment, I read the following exposition of Ezekiel 22:1-16 in Robert Jenson's commentary on Ezekiel. At least as important as the instruction not to kill, from a theological point of view, is the reason why we are not to kill—and that, Jenson argues, is often forgotten:

“Thou shalt not kill.” We repeat it, and even in secularised societies do not invoke it only in synagogue or church. But why shall we not kill? A defining feature of modernity, and even more of postmodernity—whatever we take that term to mean—is forgetfulness of the reason: that all lives belong exclusively to God, so that human creatures are not in their own interest to take life. The sense of the commandment is not that putting to death is in all circumstances forbidden me but that humans are not to make decisions over life and death by their—even justified—desires, but only by command of the one to whom all lives belong. As our forgetfulness of this deepens, the boundary of the forbidden recedes: the blood of the unborn child is shed to preserve the autonomy—from whom?—of the mother; the life of the hopelessly diminished gives way to their or their caretakers’ easier to escape; the criteria of a just war are conformed to the desires of Realpolitik. The bill of particulars in the next part of our text (22:6-12) will at its end explicitly state the origin of all crimes, civil or cultic: “You have forgotten me” (22:12).

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