Q: What is the sixth commandment?
A: The sixth commandment is: You shall not murder.
Q: What does the sixth commandment require?
A: The sixth commandment requires making every lawful effort to preserve one’s own life and the lives of others.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”
I inevitably spend the beginning of the week mulling over Children’s Church and whether I faithfully and lovingly communicated the tenets and truths of our faith. This week I think I came up short when it came to the catechism questions. We touched upon some important and salient points — how the sixth commandment requires us to go beyond its apparent dictum to honor and preserve life, including our own and every other human being; how every person is equally made in the image of God and fashioned with care and purpose; how our physical bodies reflect the goodness and creativity of the Creator and must be cherished — but I failed to bring up an issue or two that is especially relevant, I think, to kids.
It’s often easy to hone in on these next couple of commandments: Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie… They have their analogue in Hammurabi’s Code and are often the fundamentals of law and order in most societies. They are also at the root of most of the chiding of our children: “Don’t hit your sister,” “Give back your brother’s toys,” “Don’t lie to me”…
Kids will often become little lawyers with these commandments, concerned with what are the boundaries and exceptions to these rules. You may want to give some reflection and prepare yourselves to give position papers on suicide, manslaughter, capital punishment, and war… and later, divorce, taxes, corporate responsibility, civil disobedience, polygamy, and anything else on the news. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, and I think when these moments come, it isn’t necessary to be all-knowing with a ready answer but important to take these questions seriously. It is a great boon to our children to have them see us struggling and desiring to understand how our beliefs apply to actual circumstances. Enter into their imaginations and anxieties and talk them through how God’s love and justice can ease their hearts and guide their steps.
At the same time, kids will hear Matthew 5:21-22 quoted or paraphrased, and instantly get that this law, as with all the other commandments, is an impossible one to follow. Only one had the perfect heart to fully see and value every fellow man and woman, to never elevate one’s life over another, to never feel malevolence or disdain.
Here is where I think I dropped the ball, however, and I hope you’ll pick it up for me. I am challenged and guided here by one of my cultural heroes, Pastor Fred Rogers, the Saint of Pittsburgh PBS. He was always careful to validate the emotions of … everyone, but especially children. “It’s okay to be angry.” Well, that feeling may actually be sinful; it is a part of our human condition, which we believe is fallen. A young person may see or hear about a madman on the news and be rightfully frightened, not just for their own safety to be living in such a world, but that their own dark feelings could be related. Without the gospel, we have to face such hell.
Without the gospel we could tell ourselves to keep such feelings in check, to repress them, to put them to good use, to express them, to let them pass… but only at the limit of our humanity. We may cling to common grace, but we risk denying our deep depravity.
With the gospel, though, we can acknowledge that hopeless inadequacy while finding absolution and empowerment in our heavenly rescue. We can say, “It’s okay to be angry… because God saved us.” We do not have to force our kids to be perfect citizens because their perfect citizenship can be assured. They can moan and yawp and gnash their teeth and give their burden to Jesus. And there, with their gift at the altar, so to speak, they can then reconcile with their friends and enemies, seeing them not as subjects or obstacles or threats, but as equally burdened, equally beloved.
We worry mightily to preserve the lives of our own. But even as we wait for it all to be over, we must remember the kingdom of God is already here. We can release our grasp and accept our hateful hearts and accept the hateful hearts of others because we now know that, come what may, life will be preserved — not by ourselves, but by a much more great and holy power. That gives us freedom from our lawful fear and freedom to fear the law in its depth.