The Fifth Commandment

You shall not murder.

What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.

The recent murders in Connecticut have spawned debates about the growing violence within American society. Debates include gun control, mental health, school security, and parental responsibility. Most experts recommend action by local, state, or federal governments to better secure our society—legislate new laws to protect our children, more aggressive intervention for the emotionally disturbed, more oversight by social welfare agencies, but few, if any, have addressed the acts of murder as a moral and spiritual problem.

Simply put, the experts do not include sin and the old nature. The Bible records the first murder in Genesis chapter 4, “And Cain talked about Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him.” Not long into mankind’s history do we encounter murder, and not much has changed.

The old nature’s inclinations are close at hand every moment of every day. Scriptures exhort the wise to flee temptation; yet, to flirt with sin is titillating and stimulates the worst within us. Even those who do not process evil from a Christian perspective recognize the danger of a society that inoculates itself to violence and stimulates the passions within by vicarious means.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society,” writes in 1996,

 In video arcades children stand slack jawed but intent behind machine guns and shoot at electronic targets that pop up on the video screen. When they pull the trigger the weapon rattles in their hand, shots ring out, and if they hit the “enemy” they are firing at, it drops to the ground, often with chunks of flesh flying in the air.[1]

Grossman goes on to say,

This new “pseudo reality” will make it possible to replicate all the gore and violence of popular violent movies, except now you are the one who is the star, the killer, the slayer of thousands.[2]

He concludes by saying,

That force [innate rebellion against killing] has existed in man throughout recorded history, and military history can be interpreted as a record of society’s attempt to force its members to overcome their resistance in order to kill more effectively in battle.[3]

Following the massacre in Connecticut, Lt. Col. Grossman shared his concerns about the desensitizing of our society to violence via movies, television, and video games. I, for one, appreciate his call for less violence within the media; however, what Grossman fails to see is what faith reveals. That is, the innate force within mankind is not rebellion against killing; but, on the contrary, the old nature seeking to satisfy bloodlust.

Without God’s intervention there would be no moments of safety, peace, and tranquility; rather, the constant world state would be violence, murder, and massacre. No human laws, ordinances, or constraints can check this “old Adam.” This is the tragic plight of humanity without the gracious intervention of God through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Another soldier, General Douglas MacArthur, references this innate propensity to violence and war in his speech at the surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945 and again in his farewell speech to congress April 19, 1951 where he said,

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace.  . . . The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years, It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.[4]

MacArthur points to a solution to war and violence that is spiritual, a spiritual “recrudescence.” More precisely, and from a Lutheran understanding, it is only through the atoning work of Christ and the renewing of the Spirit that any has hope. This hope was given to us through the waters of Baptism where we were clothed with the righteousness of Christ—a true spiritual renewal.

In a society desensitized by violence, it behooves Christians to walk circumspectly, not in accordance with the wisdom of this world, but by faith.  As St. Paul writes to the Colossians,

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.[5]

–Gregory K. Williamson
Chief Mission Officer – LCMS

[1] Lt. Col. David Grossman, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, 1st ed., (New York: Back Bay Books; Little, Brown and Company, 1996) 314.

[2] Ibid., 316.

[3] Ibid., 332.

[4] General Douglas MacArthur, “Surrender Ceremony Speech,“ U.S.S. Missouri, Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945, Radio broadcast to the world following the formal surrender of the Japanese.

[5] Colossians 3:15-18.