For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer (Romans 13:4).
“Honestly, chaplain, what does God think about someone like me—someone who kills people from ambush in the dark?” He was an Army sniper. His commendations showed what the Army thought about him. He felt good about that. But it was not the Army that he would have to answer to when he died. Thus, the question, “What does God think?” It’s a question that requires an honest answer.
Some other occupations may also require a person to take the life of another. Law enforcement quickly comes to mind. But the military operates on a different plane. Military command plans in detail how best to kill as many of the enemy as possible. Then, it trains and motivates its members to do just that. The warrior is trained to kill without hesitation. Hesitancy may cost lives. The warrior is trained to kill without regret. Regret may make him hesitate next time. Depersonalizing the enemy makes it easier to kill him. Thus, we strip him of personhood. We use demeaning names: “Kraut,” “Nip,” “Charlie,” or “Haji”. Atrocities committed by the enemy make it even easier to kill him. Watching a buddy bleed out while under attack, can remove any lingering hesitation.
But the question, “What does God think?” may still pop up in the Christian’s mind, maybe years after he packed away his uniform. The best, and only acceptable answer comes from God, himself. With the 5th Commandment, the Lord directly addresses the matter of taking a human life. His message is: Life is precious to me. It needs to be priceless to you. I demand that you protect it. “Do not murder!” is quite clear—and a much more accurate translation than, “Thou shalt not kill!” What is often missed is that there are two sides to the commandment—positive actions are expected as well as the forbidding of the negative action.
Both Old and New Testaments reveal God’s fervent desire that human lives be protected. One way to do that is not to harm others. Another way is to keep someone else from harming them. While that applies to individual lives, it also pertains in larger settings. We think especially of the nation.
Sometimes, to keep the 5th Commandment a person needs to take a life. The one threatening to take the life of a hostage is potentially sacrificing his own life. To safeguard the life of the hostage, the protector may need to kill the hostage-taker. The same applies to a person who is threatening our country.
God has given the responsibility for protecting its citizens to the ruling powers—in our case, government. As Saint Paul reports: “he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant…” Those in law enforcement and those in the military serve as God’s agents. When they must kill to carry out their duties, they do so not just with his permission, but with his blessing. When it comes to killing, God knows all about it.
We pray: Holy God, Lord of nations and protector of people, we pray that you would keep us safe as we strive to serve you faithfully. We take our role of protector seriously. We ask that you allow us to serve you without taking the life of another. But if we must kill, give us clarity of mind and peace of conscience. Amen.