Thou Shall Not Kill
“The bravest are surely those who have clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and not withstanding go out to meet it”
The Bible revels to us in the chapters of the book of Genesis that all people posses qualities that have always distinguished us from the animal kingdom. Qualities like morality, reason and self-worth. As officers when we interact with others, individually or in a group, we are actually interacting with God’s created design for humans.
We are also made aware that our created design was by choice corrupted. and now through inherent design continues to tarnish our very image. As a result the human tendency remains one that continues to seek individual ways to satisfy all personal desires for power, control and selfish interests. As officers we are challenged to acknowledge Gods design and this subsequent deficiency in all persons. Understanding that human nature without moral boundaries becomes more corrupt and redefines freedom as license. A concept I admit I have not always remembered.
In these same early chapters we also learn that the life of an individual is so valuable to God that the highest penalty, death, was attached for taking a life. We learn that unjustly taking a human life with premeditation, for thought, malice or jealousy, is an act of murder. We also recognize that capital punishment was instituted by God in view of the sanctity of his own image and intrinsic value of human life. In the biblical context it is essential to understand this and to recognize a substantial difference between an act of murder and that of killing, which refers to an act of self defense to a threat to oneself or others, capital punishment or accident that is not complicated by another criminal action or negligent behavior. This distinction helps us to understand the tremendous responsibility God gives to us in order to occupy the role of police. Speaking about the three inalienable rights of the constitution, life liberty and pursuit of happiness ( property ) Chief of Police Robert Vernon said, “Officer’s are unique in having the ability and responsibility to take away all three rights guaranteed by the constitution. Almost on a daily basis we take away the last two. We invade privacy or property and restrict or remove freedom. And, unfortunately on rare occasions we must also take away the first”.
There are three specific verses that are often referenced regarding the Christian position in the debate over the use of deadly force as a police officer or military soldier. There are likely others but these three identify main principles taught by Jesus.
As mentioned, it is widely agreed by theologians that in the Jewish translation of the original language Exodus 20:13 is interpreted as murder and not kill. Matthew Henry point outs that, “It does not forbid killing in lawful war, or in our own necessary defense but it forbids all malice and hatred to the person of any and all personal revenge arising there from.”
In Matthew 5:39 we read the verses describing the need to turn the other cheek in situations of offense. The majority agrees that these words are describing the need to maintain an attitude of non- retaliation. Avoid revenge that could lead to a criminal action, including murder. It in no way is indicating a proper lack of self defense but rather addresses issues that call to consider our responsibility in cases requiring litigation. Again Matthew Henry points out, “Observe, it is the law of retaliation that is expounded. That it was not a command for such satisfaction but that they might lawfully insist upon it if they pleased according to laws against evil doers and vindication of the oppressed.” The principle taught is to not be revengeful in
our own actions. Do not insist upon any punishment more than necessary to our own health and safety and that of others.
Now in Matthew 26 verses 47-56 we read the description of the arrest of Jesus and the disciple Peter’s reaction to drawing a sword and injuring one of the officers. Jesus response is to say to put away the sword and that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. In other words those who use violence fall by violence. Once again Matthew Henry makes an interesting observation. The admonishment was not as much for Peter as it was the officers who came with swords to arrest the peaceful Jesus. “They took the Roman sword to seize Christ with, not long after, they and their place and nation were destroyed.”
Regardless of the mob led arrest the Centurion officers of that day had the lawful authority to affect the arrest of Jesus. Peter in desperation lashed out against the officer. This was not the act of self defense but an intentional act. And, I do not believe Peter was that proficient with a sword. The entire head, not just he ear, was the intended target! I believe the rage at the moment was to kill. Although appearing to have great honor and regard for Jesus, Christ had told the disciples earlier that the arrest would come. Peter had not used his knowledge of the situation. Neither did he let discretion guide him. And, what was one sword going to do against an angry mob? J.Vernon McGee sums up Peters actions, “I think he was trying to prove something. Earlier Peter had boasted that he would die protecting Jesus but, Jesus told him he would deny him.” Frustrated, it seems Peter wanted to prove Jesus wrong.
It is also interesting to note that Matthew Henry points out that Jesus forbid the sword in that particular situation. However, He never forbid the drawing of the sword in the future as circumstances may rightfully dictate the proper use. In summary Jesus is warning against consequences for those who lead a life o f injuring and murdering others as a way of life or in acts of retaliation.
Scripture clearly reveals to us that God chose to intervene in mankind’s moral decline and corrupt nature. We discover that God established laws and mandated the role of government and the civil protection of society from evil and to enforce justice and punish those who do wrong. God made a decision to no longer be solely responsible for the daily containment of the increasing human tolerance of inappropriate or selfish behaviors. In other words, there is evil that lies in the heart of every person and grieves the heart of God.
In the New Testament book of Romans we are instructed through the Apostle Paul that human government has a God given right to use force in its resistance of evil and to take the life of a criminal when required. In his book ”On Combat”, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman reminds us, “killing another person, even in our careers, is difficult and fundamentally against our nature and innate guiding moral compass”. He then goes on to state, “As a cop our job is not to kill” [or harm] emphasis mine. “It is to serve and protect, to do that you may have to kill” [or harm].
The New Testament clearly accepts the role of government and the function of police and corrections to protect society and enforce justice. It is the states ethical and moral responsibility to implement peace by force when necessary and not to resist evil or turn the other cheek. As a result our purpose should not be to eliminate a just punishment but, to improve on the methods of investigation and collections of evidenced that is used to prove guilt and obtain with certainty a guilty verdict. When certainty is unavailable lesser judgments or acquittals are required.
Since both the Old and New Testaments provide for the role of the law enforcement and correctional officer to protect and safeguard society the role officers have in the apprehension of offenders and subsequent punishment is not solely administered as a deterrent. But, also as a reminder that each individual possesses a built in tendency that seeks to devalue relationships and life. Punishment as a whole is a method to rid society through imprisonment those whose actions destroy and denigrate life and property. It remains the officers roll to implement peace, by force if necessary. And, scripture clearly eliminates any difference between personal and social ethics. Both are intended to work together for the safety and betterment of society. Our society contains those who arm themselves and have little or no regard for the lives of others. They follow no laws or inner voice that requires control. They act quickly without hesitation.
Lt. Colonel Grossman also provides a powerful analogy of citizens, criminals and police. “Sheep”, he states, “are kind citizens, caring decent people not capable of hurting each other except by accident or under extreme provocation”. Wolves, he contends, “feed on the sheep without mercy. They have no empathy for fellow citizens”. Then he says there are Sheepdogs. “Sheep dogs protect the flock and confront he wolf. Sheep dogs have the capacity for violence out of the deep love for fellow citizens”. Lt Grossman points out, “that although the sheep do not always appreciate the sheep dog, the sheep dog continually looks out for the sheep and stands guard to recognize and confront the wolves that threaten them”.
In a perfect society peace comes frequently through the combined strength of the good. Sustaining that strength comes from support for those who are given authority and face the violence everyday by those who respect the guidelines designed to serve and protect all of life. Let us all be reminded of what Dave Duncan had to say, “It is in the darkest of times that honor and courage and service shine most brightly. So let us make this pledge, together you and I, that we shall always hold true to our ways, our laws, and our traditions. Then centuries yet unborn will look back on us and see not our darkest times, but our most glorious”.