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5 The Sanctity Of Life

Thou shalt not kill.

Exodus 20 :13

Since the Lord alone gives life, He has the supreme right to say, "Thou shalt not kill."

If we reflect - and we must reflect at times if we are to live aright - it will be seen that since the Lord is omnipotent, there is a sense in which His Commandments - which simply mean His Will - cannot be broken. Inmostly the whole of creation is obedient to God. And so in the case of this fifth precept of the Decalogue, it is true, in the final sense, that man cannot kill - cannot destroy life. Life goes on even if the vessels that receive life be broken. Life goes on in a new form; the power of life expresses itself merely in a different way.

The slaying of certain animals - which constituted a main part of the ritual worship of Israel, and which is to this day permissively used in the search for human food - and the punitive killing of criminals, were not forbidden in the Scriptures (Compare TCR 32:3, AC 1002).

But the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has a distinct and real application. The Hebrew term here used for 'kill' is ratzach, which is exclusively used to designate 'murder' - the destruction of the human form.

Man can destroy the forms of life - can in purpose and endeavor destroy those very forms which the Lord has created into His own image and likeness - can raise his hand to degrade and destroy the human form, which in itself is holy and intended for an immortally living temple of God - intended for the conscious reception of the Divine love and the Divine wisdom.

Man alone can know and love the Lord, and thus consciously receive His life. The human form is the purpose and end of creation, and thus it is this to which the Lord refers when He commands each one of us Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not take away human life. And since human life is not only the life of the body, but also the life of the natural mind, and the rational mind, and the spiritual mind; and since the mind in its three degrees continues on after death; we may see that the commandment is given, not only for the protection of civil society, not only for the safety of our earthly existence, but also for the needs of eternal life, so that even in heaven, yea, in hell also, does the law against killing hold good.

The civil law of every country forbids murder; and under this law there are also enactions against assault, brutality, and criminal carelessness or negligence, whereby the lives, health, or reasonable wellbeing of the neighbor might be endangered or injured.

But the civil law, or civil society, for the sake of its own welfare, is also interested to prevent other injuries to human life. There are laws against libel - against any efforts to kill a man's reputation, to destroy his honor, or to bring evil upon his good name. The Heavenly Doctrine informs us clearly upon this point, stating that "fame and life with many go hand in hand" (TCR 309). Honor and a good name are "the source of a man's life among his brethren," and without these he might just as well be dead, for he would be judged as an outcast, or live a living death. Before the angels, we are told, a person who "kills" the civil life and thus the civic use of another, "is held to be as guilty as if he had destroyed the bodily life of his brother" (AE 1012:3).

Men live in utter dependence on each other in all that has to do with their life in the great human family. Our bodily safety is entrusted to others - is dependant on their skill, their good-will, and their vigilance. Each time we cross a highway or partake of a meal , or enjoy any function of society, we rely on others. And in the sphere of civil life the same holds true: we are all the guardians of the reputation and good name of each other. Our words about our brother, our behavior towards him, may, unconsciously or deliberately, tear down that confidence which is the foundation and prop of every man's usefulness to society as a whole. Use does not exist in the abstract; it is vested in persons. And unless there is an affirmative sphere of support and confidence which guarantees to the man a real freedom, and thus illustration, in the performance of his use, public confidence will be undermined and the use will come to a standstill as far as that person is concerned. His civil use is gone, and sometimes unjustly and regrettably so, and with the use is removed his delight in life and his standing among men.

We may see, then, what a tremendous responsibility the privilege of life among our fellows places upon us. We are the guardians of the reputations of our fellow men; we are in that sense "our brother's keeper"; and whosoever shall say a contemptuous word to his brother shall be in danger of "the council," and even in danger of the "hell of fire" (Matt. 5:22). We are thus warned against negative and destructive criticisms, against useless discussions of men's demerits, except so far as is actually necessary to form the private moral and civic judgments upon which depend our choice of companions for ourselves and our children, and of associates in the uses of life (SD 4347).

That it is of charity not to judge from the appearance, but to judge righteous judgment, is clear from the Lord's teachings. To appreciate the abilities and endowments and qualities of others is necessary in civil life, and there is even some urgency at times to feel something of contempt for those who are deficient in their functions or business. Such contempt may be mistaken; but even if it is, it may be forgiven, unless it is prompted from the love of self, and unless it leads to self-exaltation and conceit, as it so frequently does. Those who are in charity and self-humiliation may, in the other life, reverse these judgments if they find them wrong. But charity also causes a man to hesitate in making judgments in matters outside his own sphere of illustration, and to realize that where Providence has not clearly set him up as judge the better rule is to heed the Lord's warning, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." The good name, the usefulness, the civic and social life and happiness of our neighbor are, in Providence, entrusted to us to hold in honor, and to preserve from damage of evil tongue and unconsidered word.

To kill means to destroy, partly or wholly. The Jews, in their time, took the commandment to mean that he who killed another was liable to punishment in this world. But the Lord widened the idea. He showed that the anger of hatred is essential murder, and that one who, without cause, or rashly, is angry with his brother, and from confirmed anger acts contemptuously toward him, may expect that this anger will follow him when he becomes a spirit in the other world, and will lead to punishment there, which eventually will be represented by the "hell of fire," i.e., by a consuming hatred which destroys his own life and the possibilities of his eternal blessedness .

The Writings give ample evidence from the spiritual world that in all hatred of the neighbor, and thus in enmity and in anger, and in all evil love, there is the suppressed desire to destroy or kill. The fact that men are bound to each other by so many common needs while they live on earth has the effect of suppressing this desire to kill; but unless a conscience has been formed which can defeat this evil desire and remove the lust to rule and to destroy everything that opposes one's selfish delights, the lust to kill will show itself openly after death, and often as a spiritual insanity, a homicidal mania.

It is known that love brings presence in the other life. From this comes the felicity of heaven. But it is also true that hatred brings a sort of presence: a spirit who has harbored deep hatred of another is obsessed by the thought of his presence, and this in turn awakens the lust to kill. The inner endeavor to harm can no more be suppressed; intentions confirmed and proposed become actual deeds - yet only in phantasy, for the Lord protects His own. If two evil spirits seek to destroy each other, these - not being in the sphere of the Lord's protection - would actually both be in the phantastic combat. Good spirits may be persecuted for a time, but only in their first, unpurified, states .

ANGER is a general affection, which results from a combination of feelings - and this when man feels that there is resistance to his love, the love of his proprium and its delights. When man's love of the world is thwarted, or especially when his love of self is opposed by other men or by a combination of circumstances so that he is deprived of his delights, then there breaks forth as it were a sudden fire from his will into the understanding and, there it bursts into the flame which we call anger. This flame actually strives to consume the truths and goods of the understanding (AC 9144:2), making them of no effect, destroying the reason, and so far as it can, overriding prudence itself. The understanding - swamped with such sudden emotion -- cannot retain any real order in its thought. The influx of heavenly light, which is usual in a rational mind, is therefore closed off, and instead the thought is fed entirely from the senses. The fire of hatred fills the mind with falsities of evil, which are like smoke in the imagination, and produce a morbid, lurid light of phantasy which sees all things in "red" -i.e., in a false appearance.

It is well to know what the anger of hatred is, for it must be shunned and controlled and removed if man is ever to enjoy the light of heaven and live in the Lord's kingdom. For anger is from the love of self - from the intolerance which comes from the love of indulging one's desire to rule over others, or of having one's own way in spite of the opposing rights of others. This anger flames out against all who differ, or who limit the man's delight and do not favor him; and it breeds revenge and cruelty. To shun as murder everything of hatred and enmity, or internal envy and grudge, is to obey the spiritual-moral sense of the fifth precept.

It should be clearly seen, however, that the keeping of any law cannot be judged merely from the letter, or from appearance. Since the inward idea of the fifth precept is that human life must be preserved, the civil law prescribes the death of a murderer, and acknowledges the right of self-defense, and the moral right of an army to defend the lives of its civilian population. And on the spiritual plane there is a similar apparent exception. For there is what is called a righteous indignation, which appears, even with the angels, as if it were anger; yet it is but the zeal of love and charity, expressed as a rebuke against what is evil. It is love, kindled to protect itself against a violator; and while a regenerating man is immersed in his proprium during combats of temptation, he therefore becomes indignant against evil and falsity, thinks restlessly, and desires and prays impetuously. But afterwards he (perhaps in a moment) returns into his internal state - into the sphere of regenerate affections - and into a serene, cheerful, happy, and bright state (AC 5725; AE 693).

Evil is judged by its inner character - by its spiritual nature. The evil of murder seems to be hatred of the neighbor. But primarily, in its essence, it is hatred against spiritual laws of truth and order and justice and mercy and use. It is against truth and charity that the love of self hurls its forces of blind rebellion. It is against the kingdom and reign of the Lord God Jesus Christ, that the spirit of murder rages. And it spends its force against men because it cannot overthrow the laws of possibility - it cannot destroy God. It was this inner essence of hell and of the devil (the love of self), called "a murderer from the beginning," that had to be exposed when the Jews were led to crucify the Lord; and the same opposition of the spirit of hatred to the Divine Truths of the Lord's glorified Human (now revealed in the New Jerusalem as the Light thereof) is represented in John's vision of a Lamb as if slain standing on the throne of heaven (Rev. 5:6).

The Divine purpose, the Kingdom of the Lord, would be unrealized if the souls of men could be killed and destroyed by evils and by falsities. This would be murder in its fullest sense. The angels have no notion of bodily death; but they understand by murder anything that injures man's spiritual life (AC 7089). Murder, in the ultimate and final sense, is to take away from a man the faculty of understanding truth and willing good; and the object of hell, and of all its crew, is thus to make man's repentance impossible. They do that by encouraging man's evils, insinuating their own evils and persuading the man that they are his - his forever. They do it by perverting truths into falsities which seem to show that there is no need to continue a life of self-examination and self-control and of shunning evil. They do it, finally, in the latter days of a Church, by appearing to take away from men their spiritual freedom.

This effort of hell is real murder. But it is achieved only with man's consent and desire. It may not appear to be murder when men here on earth inject scandals against some truth of religion, or some means of salvation - when they contrive to create aversion for the things of worship and instruction - and thus by subtle and apparently trivial methods turn men away from God, from religion, and from heaven. But this is the soul of all the hatred and anger and revenge of hell.

And therefore, in the Word of God, the signs of the end of the age when the judgment would come in the spiritual world, include great wars and much slaughter. The prophets and apostles of the Lord would be killed. In fact the Lord said to His disciples, "The time cometh when whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2). When hatred rules, in a mind or in a world, falsity will be accepted and truth persecuted in the name of Religion. "Prophets" and "apostles" stand for truths of doctrine, which the love of self will minimize, and alter, and finally pervert or reject. Even to the New Church, which is given to serve in the Lord's cause of preserving alive the perceptions of the truth of His teaching through these times of spiritual slaughter when the children of older states are rising against their parents and killing them, there will come temptations to give way to the loves of self and the world. And the spheres of these loves are at all times ready to discourage the worship of the Lord and the study of His revelation, and to obscure our understanding of the goods and truths of the Church, i.e., of its principles and its uses.

When such danger is felt to threaten, let us recall that the Lord alone is the Master of our lives. We, one and all, belong unto Him. From Him is the life that is ever more abundant. Into His hands may we commend our spirits, and need no more fear them that can only kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. For even the whole of hell is in reality impotent. It also must obey the Divine Omnipotence which dictates the law, "Thou shalt not kill." Falsity and evil cannot kill truth or good - cannot lead a soul into spiritual death except he himself so desires. The Lord God Jesus Christ rules, and against His Truth the power of hell shall not prevail.


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5 The Sanctity Of Life

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