MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Up next on The World and Everything in It, commentary from WORLD’s Jamie Dean.
JAMIE DEAN, NATIONAL EDITOR: It’s not often that a catechism hits me like a hammer. But it happened recently as I read the Westminster Larger Catechism’s teaching on the Sixth Commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
As Christians grapple with how the Scripture’s teaching applies during a pandemic, and otherwise tumultuous times, I dipped into the catechism to review its wisdom on promoting and protecting the lives of others.
Should we gather for worship again? If so, when? If soon, how?
The catechism didn’t offer a clear blueprint. It did speak of the duty of pursuing “lawful endeavors to preserve the life of ourselves and others.” It spoke against “the neglecting or withdrawing of the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life.”
That still doesn’t tell us exactly what to do. Some may think forgoing all gatherings is necessary in some places. Others think gathering for worship is necessary, along with serious efforts to do that as safely as possible.
Anything we do is still an endeavor. We should try hard to preserve life, but the catechism is reminding us that the power of life and death is not in our hands. That power belongs to God alone.
But that’s not what hit me like a hammer.
It was the second half of the catechism’s teaching on the Sixth Commandment. It spoke of the duty of “charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness.” It spoke against “provoking words; oppression; quarreling.”
Ah—here comes the piercing reminder that promoting life is also a matter of the heart. Jesus told His disciples: “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall not murder…’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council…”
I realized I’m sometimes more careful about wearing a mask when I’m in a store than I am of covering my mouth when I’m tempted to stoke an unnecessary quarrel. I’m often more careful about washing my hands than I am of asking Christ to cleanse my heart.
What if I come all the way through this pandemic with my physical life intact, but with my heart in the habit of wounding myself and others? What if I take the proper care to promote the physical well-being of others, but I devour them with my words or thoughts?
What if the Lord is showing us how we’ve been failing to keep the Sixth Commandment all along?
This doesn’t mean that we stop having constructive conversations about how Christians should live. And it doesn’t mean we’ll always agree.
We don’t have a blueprint for every practical step we should take during a pandemic. But we do have a Bible that shows us how to seek wisdom and the welfare of others in humility and love. And we have an example in a Savior who urged his followers to “learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart—and you will find rest for your souls.”
I’m Jamie Dean.