By Laura L. Wood
“Do not murder.” On the list of commandments, this sounds like an easy one. I can check that off right now. As with any Old Testament command, however, the sixth commandment must be understood in the light of Jesus’ teachings.
Jesus takes the ancient mandate a step further than simply not physically ending another person’s life. In Matthew 5, we hear his words on the subject of murder and the treatment of others: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder.’ . . . But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (vv. 21, 22). Jesus teaches us that we are responsible for our thoughts as well as our actions. Jesus’ teachings tell us to take the Old Testament mandates, including the sixth commandment, a step further, to subject our thoughts about others to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and to value human life—not perpetrate the cycle of violence by causing harm to another human being.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to enhance the Old Testament’s commandments and society’s guidelines for moral lives. We shouldn’t just refrain from committing adultery; we should not even think lustful thoughts about another person. We shouldn’t just give to the poor; we should not even fall prey to prideful thoughts by telling others we’re doing it. We feel that we have certain natural rights, such as the right to avenge a wrong done to us. However, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us to forfeit those natural rights—those instinctual responses—and live lives led by the Holy Spirit’s guidance to love and care for other people.
On October 2, 2006, a man entered an Amish schoolhouse, took the students hostage, and eventually shot and killed several of the girls. Before being apprehended, he killed himself.
The Amish community, including the victims’ families, reeling with shock and grieving their own losses, still managed to make the confident decision to forgive the gunman, comfort his devastated family, and even show up at his funeral as a sign of support and solidarity with his widow and children.
That kind of conscious forgiveness does not come naturally. Such a display of Christ’s love and forgiveness requires setting aside natural urges to hold a grudge and avenge a wrong, leaning on the Holy Spirit and drawing strength from him.
The Amish community’s demonstration of forgiveness did not go unnoticed. Media focused on it, and the widow herself wrote a note to the Amish community, saying, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”
It’s nice to read examples of people who went above and beyond in their forgiveness of someone who wronged them. In my daily life, what form can the command not to murder take?
I have found that the way I think and talk about people does not always line up with Jesus’ teachings to love them. I once felt stressed out at work because one of my coworkers kept asking to change the schedule and requesting off, causing me to have to fill in for her. My boss was upset about the situation as well, and we began texting one another about it. At one point, I reread the texts I had sent and was shocked at the
cruel-hearted comments I had made about the poor girl, who had no idea I was even angry at her! I know that I certainly wouldn’t have said those things to her face and would not want anyone to talk like that about me behind my back. Cruel words hurt as much as physical pain at times, yet I must constantly stand guard over my attitude about others, taking care not to say or think things that would hurt them.
Why not say those things, though? My boss was angry with her, too. We could commiserate and understand one another’s frustration. We felt allied, and, let’s face it, that feeling of connectedness with another person feels good sometimes, even if it is at someone else’s expense. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us that we must deny those natural inclinations and rights to bond with someone by hurting another.
Practically speaking, these teachings make sense. In the example of my coworker, my boss and I criticizing her behind her back certainly did not lead to a loving, fruitful work environment. My comments just fueled my boss’s feelings of contempt for her, exaggerating the girl’s shortcomings, and eventually putting her job in jeopardy. Not to mention that after I reread those texts, I felt guilty around both my boss and my coworker. Outwardly I acted like I liked her, yet inwardly I had seethed against her.
We must stop to think about how our thoughts and attitudes affect our behaviors. Our thoughts determine how we feel and act. Choosing loving, forgiving thoughts leads to the actions of love and forgiveness. Even if we do not act on destructive thoughts, other people can feel them and sense that we are holding a grudge against them—or at least that somehow something in the relationship is not right.
When we train ourselves to love others and to display kind actions instead of hateful ones, we foster peaceful feelings in ourselves that can be felt by those around us. We become agents of kindness and understanding instead of division and strife. The people around us react in loving and kind ways as well, and our environments become more peaceful.
As a mother, I have seen this many times. When my children come home from school tired and stressed out, they tend to lash out at each other for perceived wrongs. If I respond to their actions with harsh words, the stress in the house grows. If I deal gently with them, they eventually begin to respond more kindly to me and to one another. Most of us would agree that a kind, peaceful environment is more favorable than one rife with anger and hostility. We must all decide to act in a way that promotes love and peace, not harboring unforgiveness.
Unfortunately, forgiveness does not come easily. Deciding not to hold a grudge but instead to live a life full of grace toward others costs us something. It costs us our natural right to show the world how flawed the other person was and how correct we were. However, putting ourselves in the other’s position and seeing things from his point of view is a biblical command. Remember the part about “do unto others . . . ”? When we harbor feelings of bitterness, we slow our spiritual growth, building a wall of unforgiveness between ourselves and God. We must allow God to work in us to produce real forgiveness and root out seeds of anger and discord toward others.
The commandment not to murder sounds simple at first but involves much more work than it appears. It involves a commitment to valuing human life and setting others above ourselves. It involves submitting our thought life to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit and controlling our words about others. Understood in the light of Jesus’ teachings, the sixth commandment becomes a lifelong project that requires patience and the desire to bend our wills to the will of God.
Laura L. Wood is a freelance writer in Cincinnati, Ohio.
A Mad World
These statistics on anger from the British Association of Anger Management show just how big a problem anger is today.
• Almost a third of people polled (32 percent) say they have a close friend or family member who has trouble controlling anger.
• More than one in 10 (12 percent) say they have trouble controlling their own anger.
• More than one in four people (28 percent) say they worry about how angry they sometimes feel.
• One in five people (20 percent) say they have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how that person behaved when angry.
• Sixty-four percent either strongly agree or agree that people in general are getting angrier.