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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

06 September 2006

Killing Your Fellow Man

Q: Does God condone the taking of human life if man thinks it is for the better good? I am a wondering sheep seeking shelter from a shepherd.

HandgunA: I don’t know that “condone” is the best word. God certainly commanded capital punishment for certain crimes and sins in the Old Testament and allowed it to continue in the New Testament and beyond. Are you speaking of a lawful sentence imposed by a legitimate government, acts of war, self defense, or personal revenge or vendettas? Revenge is forbidden (e.g., Deuteronomy 32:35).

However, when the state executes a criminal, especially one who appears to be an ongoing threat to the lives of others, this seems exactly what Paul described in Romans: “If you do wrong, be afraid, for [the one in authority] does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (13:4)” Similarly, soldiers acting under orders and fighting to defend their land and their people are not categorized with wanton murderers.

Defense of family is not forbidden by Scripture. Killing another to avoid being killed is a “gray area” by comparison; even if man’s law allows it and if one does so without malice, I would still encourage that person to confess and receive forgiveness for taking another’s life.

Judging from the way you phrased your question, you may have already been thinking along these lines. You asked about “man” in the generic sense and not “a man”; often this is the difference that God’s Word indicates. While even judges and juries can make mistakes or allow emotion to override reason, the likelihood of this happening is much lower than when an individual lashes out in order to “even the score.”

Electric ChairThe evils that lead man to impose capital punishment and fight just wars are so emotionally charged that those responsible for life and death decisions must control their own feelings. The combat soldier, for instance, should believe that his nation’ s cause is just before pulling the trigger. If he begins shooting out of hatred for his enemy or strictly to avenge the death of a fallen brother, he becomes a murderer. The judge must rule and impose sentence according to the law, not according to personal feelings toward the perpetrator.

As for your second sentence, I take this to mean that you are now unchurched but desiring to find a home where the Gospel is preached wholly, sweetly, and purely. I pray that our gracious God would soon lead you to the green pastures and still waters you desire, where you would find a kind and loving pastor to speak Christ’s pardon and peace to you.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.

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