The Measure of a Man
Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.
Question 134 of the Larger Catechism asks, “Which is the Sixth Commandment?” It gives the answer, “The Sixth Commandment is, Thou shalt not kill.” In Question 135 it begins to explain the sixth commandment by asking, “What are the duties required in the Sixth Commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The duties required in the Sixth Commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavours, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any...” Last time we looked at how God promises to bless our obedience to His commandments. Today we consider the foundation for the prohibition against murder: the value of human life.
Human life is valuable! I once heard of a poll of college students who were asked if you could save one human being or the last five thousand Bengal tigers, what would you do? Supposedly all or nearly all chose the tigers. These students estimated the value of life quantitatively, by numbers, rather than qualitatively, by kind. They were completely ignorant of the true measure of human life. The life of any one human being is worth infinitely more than any amount of plants or animals. You may be thinking, “That cannot be right. How can a finite person have infinite value?” The answer is because mankind alone has been made in the image of God. God, who is infinite in being and glory, made man in His image and for His glory. God has willed that man’s being glorifies Him, and the entrance of sin into creation does not and cannot frustrate the purpose and plan of God. Thus, each individual human being, as an image-bearer of God, right now does and forever will glorify either the justice or the mercy of God. This direct glorifying of God as His image-bearer is unique to man and gives his being infinite value over all the other creatures.
Accordingly, the Scripture at the head of this article attributes man’s nature as image bearer as the reason for capital punishment. The thinking goes like this: because all mankind equally bears the image of God, anyone who murders a man must be put to death. To murder a human being is to destroy that which God explicitly set forth to bear His divine likeness. Such a monstrous evil cannot be eradicated by anything less than the similar destruction of the evil-doer. Only by the just and sober execution of the willful murderer is the offense to God’s honor removed. Thus, those who rightly appreciate the true value of human life will insist upon capital punishment for the crime of murder.
Allowing a murderer to live betrays thinking that some finite payment can compensate for the infinite offense that is done to God by the destruction of His sacred image in the murder of one human being. Thus, a murderer can be allowed to live only by valuing human life quantitatively, finitely. Where this is done man’s infinite value in being made in the image of God is denied, and human life inevitably degenerates.
Against this hatred of man (and God), the Catechism affirms the full worth of man as being made in God’s image. Consequently, as it lists man’s duties in keeping the Sixth Commandment, the Catechism begins by prescribing every action which preserves, and prohibiting every action which would threaten our own lives or the lives of our neighbors.
Thus, if we rightly appreciate the true dignity and worth of human life, we will carefully study and lawfully endeavor to preserve it by resisting, subduing, and avoiding any thought, word, or deed which would tend towards the unjust taking it away. As we saw earlier, there are times when killing a person is justified or even mandatory, as in capital punishment for the murderer, or in self-defense, or just war. However, apart from these very precise exceptions (the reason for which is also ultimately the value of human life as image-bearer of God), we are responsible before God to do all that we can to promote and protect our own lives and the lives of others. When we value the image of God, we value the God who gives it. May we love God enough to love all His image-bearers!