Are there times when it’s OK to kill someone?

Is killing someone always wrong? If I went completely berserk, for instance, and threatened your life with an axe, should you be blamed if you killed me in self-defence? And if an unwanted pregnancy puts a young mother’s life at stake, would it not justify aborting her baby? Or what if “pulling the plug” puts an end to a loved one’s unbearable pain? Or what if you saw a horrible crime happening and you jumped in to protect the victim and killed the attacker?

In all these difficult situations killing can seem like a right thing to do, and sometimes what other choice have we got? In war, for instance, especially against a lunatic like Hitler, we depend on killing for survival; it’s either kill or be killed.

And hasn’t God killed people? Yes, many times. He not only ended the lives of multiple thousands of people in the Old Testament himself, he also commanded others to kill for him, and that’s after he gave the commandment, “Do not kill,” too. So in his mind there were times when it was right to kill people. But God, of course, has the power to bring people back to life again, whereas we have no such power when we decide to kill someone. To many people, therefore, killing can never be justified. Taking a human life is inexcusable, in any form, whether it be in war or in self-defence, or by abortion, euthanasia or suicide.

But, others reply, death isn’t the end of the road from God’s point of view, because there isn’t a death – deliberate or accidental – that Christ’s sacrifice does not cover. God also has the power to give life back to someone who’s been killed, including aborted babies. Death is no obstacle to God, and neither is human failing. If we kill a person, therefore, that person isn’t dead forever. What we did may be inexcusable, but it is forgivable – and it can be reversed, because God can restore a life too.

To all those men and women who went to war, therefore, who now look back in shame and despair at what they did – killing innocent people, killing fellow Christians, and killing in hate – who now need reassurance that all is not lost for either themselves or the people they killed, Jesus offers that reassurance. He may not remove all the nightmares or the flashbacks, but he offers understanding and compassion toward our weakness and our circumstances. He knows the awful dilemmas we find ourselves in, and the fears that drive us to kill, and he made provisions for every one of them through his death and resurrection.

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