As a former history teacher, I am a veteran of many school trips to the battlefields of the First World War in France and Belgium. On each visit, I never ceased to be amazed at the effect the enormous memorials and vast cemeteries filled with the corpses of young men in their teens and twenties had on the students. Such visits always brought home the stark reality of conflict which no classroom teaching could ever hope to replicate.
World War 1 in particular, was a conflict unrivalled in history. On both the Western and Eastern fronts, there was carnage and slaughter on a hitherto unimaginable industrial scale. Yet, barely twenty years after the armistice of1918 Britain was again drawn into war in response to the German invasion of Poland in 1939.
My own father volunteered before war broke out, joining the Gordon Highlanders in April 1939. Aged 20, and with great maturity, he perceptively reasoned that it was better to stop the evil of Nazism on the continent of Europe than on his own doorstep. He was a born again Christian who viewed the coming conflict as a ‘just war’.
Many of my father’s Christian contemporaries did not share these sentiments. When war came they refused to join up when conscripted, claiming that the Bible prohibited them from taking the lives of others. They cited the Sixth of the Ten Commandments which says: “You shall not kill”.
Unfortunately this commandment has been misunderstood. Does this commandment forbid all killing of any kind or are there exceptions? The word ‘kill’ when properly translated from the Hebrew means ‘murder.’ Thus the proper translation is: “You shall not murder”.
While we accept that all murder is killing, we must ask the question: is all killing murder?
Writing on his church’s website, the pastor of Middletown Bible Church in the USA has brought some clarity to the issue:
“Murder involves killing unlawfully with premeditated malice. It involves a deliberate, planned, pre-mediated attack against a fellow human being for the purpose of taking his life for reasons that are purely sinful.
There is also the kind of killing that is unintentional, such as when a person causes the death of a person by accident...... Accidental killing is rightly classified as killing but it is not murder. The Bible makes a clear distinction between someone who kills a person accidentally without ever having hated the person, and someone who murders a person by lying in wait for him. The latter is an example of a carefully planned and premeditated murder motivated by hatred.”
As a father and grandfather who is a born again Christian, I believe that all human life is precious and to be highly valued. The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God so every human being matters to the Almighty. Thus, the taking of a human life is always a tragedy, no matter the circumstances. It should never be trivialised or taken lightly.