The Sanctity of Life
Post date: Dec 07, 2016 7:0:55 PM
Nov 14, 2011 by Rousas John Rushdoony
This article is from Law and Liberty, Chapter 2, by Rousas John Rushdoony, a Reformed scholar and brilliant writer of the last century. Dr. Rushdoony was the founder of Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization devoted to research, publishing, and to cogent communication of a distinctively Christian scholarship to the world at large. His son Mark continues to publicize and distribute Rushdoony’s work through Chalcedon. We are grateful to Chalcedon for permission to publish this book serially, chapter by chapter. Visit Chalcedon’s website here. Reverence for Life
One of the more prominent thinkers of this century, and a famous humanist, was Dr. Albert Schweitzer. By his own statements, Schweitzer was religiously not a Christian but a humanitarian. His basic religious principle was not Jesus Christ but reverence for life. For Schweitzer, reverence for life meant that all life is equally sacred and holy, and equally to be reverenced. The life of man and the life of a worm or a mosquito, the life of a saint and the life of the most depraved criminal, are equally sacred and equally to be revered. Any killing, even of plants and animals for food, is a guilty act of murder, so that man lives by guilt only. There can be no moral discrimination between men or between living things, because all equally represent life, and all life is sacred and holy. In varying degrees, this belief is widespread in our times. Many hold that capital punishment is murder, a crime against life, and that all warfare is murder and therefore totally to be condemned. Moreover, the new morality refuses to distinguish between moral and immoral acts in the Biblical sense: all acts are held to be moral which do no violence to life. Life is holy, and there can be no discrimination against any act which is an aspect of life.
People who hold to this faith are almost always pacifists, although some will justify the killing of fascistic enemies of humanity; they are against capital punishment, and they are against Christian morality because they claim it is restrictive of or hostile to life and the will to live.
Life on God’s Terms
To cope with this very prevalent faith, it is necessary to know the Biblical perspective thoroughly. The plain statement of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shalt not kill.” The meaning of this commandment is that God as Creator is Lord over life and death: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39). Life is the gift of God; it must therefore be lived on His terms and according to His law. Man cannot take life, including his own, according to his own wishes without being guilty of murder. In many states, our law still reflects the Christian belief that attempted suicide is attempted murder and a criminal offense. Our life is not our own: we can neither live nor die according to our will but only according to God’s will and word. As a result, the death sentence against murder is repeatedly pronounced in the Bible: “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). “He that smiteth a man, so that he die, shall be surely put to death” (Ex. 21:12). “The murderer shall surely be put to death” (Num. 35:16-18). Murder, thus, is one of the crimes that calls for capital punishment.
The Right to Kill Belongs to God
But, some have argued, how can the Bible logically ask us to impose death as a penalty when it also forbids us to kill? The answer is a simple one. The right to kill does not belong to man; it belongs to God as the author of life. Life can be taken, capital punishment imposed, only according to the law of God and under commission from Him. Repeatedly the Bible tells us, as for example, in Romans 13:1-6, that officers of state, civil government officials, are ministers of God. Just as the church represents a ministry of the word and of the sacraments, and of church discipline, so the state or civil government represents a ministry, the ministry of justice, the administration of law and order under God. Moreover, just as the officers or ministers of the church must believe in and be faithful to God, or else incur His wrath and judgment, so also must the officers or ministers of the state believe in and be faithful to God, or else incur His wrath and judgment.
Authority Like the Authority of a God
Because the officers of state exercise God’s power, that is, the ministry of justice, with the power and right to take life, they are spoken of by God as “elohim” in Psalm 82, that is, as gods. They are like gods in that they share in God’s authority over human life: to them is delegated the duty of killing men when men violate God’s laws. When they discharge this duty according to God’s word, their judgment is regarded as “judgments of God.” According to Deuteronomy 1:17, in its instructions to civil officers and judges, “Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s.” If the judges and officers of civil government fail to keep God’s laws, if they pervert God’s justice, then, according to Psalm 82, although their authority is like the authority of a god, they “shall die like men” (Ps. 82:7). God Himself will bring judgment and capital punishment on a country that despises His law.
Capital Punishment Not an Option of the State
As a result, from the Christian perspective capital punishment is not an option of the state, not a matter where civil government has a choice. The state has an ironclad law, the law of God, which it must obey, because the execution of criminals who incur the death penalty is required of the state at the penalty of the state’s own life if it disobeys.
The rights of the criminal are protected by Biblical law. The legal principle that a man is innocent before the court until proven guilty is derived from the Bible. The same is true of the requirement of corroboration before a testimony is allowed to stand against a man. But the Bible makes clear that man proven guilty cannot be the object of pity. As Solomon summarized it, “They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them” (Prov. 28:4). Those who are full of pity for the guilty criminal are themselves men who have forsaken the law. Their pity for the criminal is itself a sign of depravity.
A few years ago, the father of a six-year-old girl who was brutally slain by a sex pervert, said, “I can’t blame the man as much as the society which produced him.” The criminal was clearly a degenerate man. But we must insist that this father himself was fearfully degenerate. This father was denying the doctrine of personal moral responsibility. He was turning the whole moral world upside down by calling the criminal the victim. He was despising God’s law in favor of various sociological excuses for criminality. Solomon expressed clearly the consequences of such moral delinquency: “He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Prov. 28:9).
The power to kill thus is God’s power; it must be exercised according to God’s law, and it is not man’s power but God’s power. This godly use of the power to kill is, according to the Bible, also involved in just warfare.
True Liberty is Under God’s Law
But this is only one side of the matter. The power to kill is under God’s law, and life and living are also under God’s law. Nowadays, it is popular to think of laws as a restraint on life, and this is an attitude widely encouraged by existentialist humanism. The free life is the life beyond law, beyond good and evil, we are told; it is emancipation from law and morality. Our historic American position, however, has been the Christian faith that true liberty is under law, God’s law. Godly wisdom, which means faith and obedience, is, according to Scripture “a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her” (Prov. 3:18; cf. 11:30). According to the Berkeley version of Psalm 19:7, “The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul.” Instead of being a form of bondage, God’s law is for us the condition of life.
The Law of God, the Ground of Man’s Moral, Spiritual, and Physical Health
Let us analyze the meaning of this, God’s law as the condition of life. The condition of a fish’s life, its environment, is water; take a fish out of water, and it dies. The condition of a tree’s life, its health and its environment, is the soil; uproot a tree, and you kill it. It is no act of liberation to take a fish out of water, or a tree out of the ground. Similarly, the condition of a man’s life, the ground of man’s moral, spiritual, and physical health, is the law of God. To take men and societies out of the world of God’s law is to sentence them to a decline, fall, and death. Instead of liberation, it is execution. Man’s liberty is under God’s law, and God’s law is the life-giving air of man and society, the basic condition of their existence. When Moses summoned Israel to obey God’s law and to walk by faith, he said, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deut. 30:19). “Therefore choose life,” and choosing life means living in obedience to God’s law through faith in Jesus Christ, whose saving grace enables us to believe and obey.
“They That Hate Me Love Death”
Law is therefore the condition of man’s life because God is the creator of life and the sole ground of its continuation. God’s law is the essence of life and the terms of life. Those who tamper with God’s law, or who espouse any departure from it, instead of seeking freedom to live, as they claim, are in actuality seeking death. For a fish, “escape” from water is an escape from life; it is a will to death. Jesus Christ, speaking as Wisdom ages ago, declared, “But he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death” (Prov. 8:36). The hatred of God’s law is the hatred of life: it is the love of death.
Despising God’s Government is Presumption
True government is government according to God’s word, in terms of His law, as a ministry of justice. Those who despise government are, according to Moses (Num. 15:29-31) and St. Peter (2 Pet. 2:10), guilty of the sin of presumption. Presumption means taking for oneself authority and power for which one has no warrant or right. Whenever we set aside God’s laws concerning life and death, we are guilty of presumption. Presumption is the mark of an unbeliever. Presumption means that we have set ourselves in the place of God and have demanded that life and death be on our terms only.
The presumptuous humanists talk about reverence for life, but, instead of having any regard for the sanctity of life, their view of life is secular and profane. Life for them has no connection with God; it is simply a natural resource to exploit and re-shape to their own tastes. They are presumptuous, that is, self-willed; their universe is essentially their own ego and their own intellectual pride, their confidence that they represent the elite ruling class of the ages. Their presumption makes them not only contemptuous of God but of other men. We live in a day when the love of all men is insistently proclaimed in theory, and massive hatred of all men is practiced in fact. We hear much about equality from men who tell us they are our superiors and therefore know what is best for us. We hear calls for unity from men whose every action divides us. Presumptuous men, because they are self-willed, can bring only anarchy. Faith and obedience bring unity because they unite men in Christ, not in man’s will. “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Ps. 127:1).