Lord’s Day 40 (Q/A 105-107): DIGNIFYING DIFFERENCE

105 Q.   What is God’s will for you
in the sixth commandment?

A.    I am not to belittle, hate, insult, or kill my neighbor—
not by my thoughts, my words, my look or gesture,
and certainly not by actual deeds—^1
and I am not to be party to this in others;
rather, I am to put away all desire for revenge.^2

I am not to harm or recklessly endanger myself either. ^3
Prevention of murder is also why
government is armed with the sword.^4

^1 Matt. 5:21-22;Gen. 9:6; Matt. 26:52
^2 Eph. 4:26; Rom. 12:19; Matt. 5:25; 18:35
^3 Rom. 13:14; Col. 2:23; Sirach 3:27*; Matt. 4:7
^4 Gen. 9:6; Exod. 21:14; Matt. 26:52; Rom. 13:4

*Sirach is a deutero-canonical book, treated with respect but not as canonical by the 16th  century reformers.

106 Q.   Does this commandment refer only to murder?

A.    By forbidding murder God teaches us
that he hates the root of murder:
envy,^1 hatred,^2 anger,^3 vindictiveness.

In God’s sight all such are disguised forms of murder.^4

^1 Rom. 1:29
^2 1 John 2:9,11
^3 James 2:[13]; 1:20; Gal. 5:20
^4 1 John 3:15

107 Q.   Is it enough then
that we do not murder our neighbor
in any such way?

A.    No.
By condemning envy, hatred, and anger
God wants us
to love our neighbors as ourselves,^1
to be patient, peace-loving, gentle,^2
merciful,^3 and friendly toward them,^4
to protect them from harm as much as we can,^5
and to do good even to our enemies.^6

^1 Matt. 22:39; 7:12
^2 Eph. 4:2; Gal. 6:1-2; Matt. 5:9; Rom. 12:18
^3 Matt. 5:7; Luke 6:36
^4 Rom. 12:10
^5 Exod. 23:5
^6 Matt. 5:44-45; Rom. 12:20-21

LORD’S DAY 40 (Q/A 105-107)
“Dignifying Difference”

Following the tragic events of the 9/11 attacks, the wise insights of the former Chief Rabbi of London, Sir Jonathan Sacks, provided a faith-based, robust framework to engage difference.  In his book The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid a Clash of Civilizations, Sacks prescribed that we as a human race must move beyond mere toleration of differences of beliefs and perspectives, and move towards dignifying difference.

What it became vividly apparent on a global scale expressed realities on the local level – i.e. indifference, sarcasm, to outright disregard, disrespect, and utter hatred towards others with whom we disagree, when left unchecked and unaccountable, can erupt into murderous acts involving passenger jets crashing into buildings, decades of warfare in the Middle East or separation of families in a divided Korean peninsula.

Toleration of each other and merely seeking amicable co-existence with one another treats members of the human household, and members of the household of faith, as like college roommates who can choose to engage and relate, to come and go as we please; in short, to merely exist as entities.

As creatures made in the image of God, we understand who we are derivatively from our Creator; the triune God is personal, relating to one another (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) in community, and relating to the creation God made.  This means we are fully human when we are in relation with the triune God and with one another. And because no two are exactly alike, we are made to engage in difference, with difference, not indifferently.

While one necessary step to engage difference is to acknowledge difference, which is what toleration does, merely acknowledging doesn’t really engage, doesn’t bring one eye-to-eye, face-to-face, hand-to-hand with the other. Such engagement is necessary to truly, really, and fully confront our fears, our anxieties, our anger, and unrequited hopes.

That’s what dignifying difference does.  Sacks bases dignifying difference on the Jewish notion of covenant.  In a covenant, you must fully engage, laying yourself on the line for the other, promising to be with the other come hell or high water; it’s a resilience to stick with the other when the going gets rough.  It’s also attempting to understand the mind and heart of the other, to see the world through the other’s life. It’s giving dignity and worth to each person, to their attempts at wrestling with life, to their interpretations, perspectives, and backgrounds.  Imagine stepping into the shoes of the broken humanity of the terrorist in the cockpit of that airplane seconds before it smashed into the World Trade Center tower. Sure, there was seething anger; but what about the man’s family, images of his parents, of his village, memories of a childhood.  We see this exemplified in the late Pope John Paul II’s humble and courageous visit to his would-be assassin in prison, offering him forgiveness, seeking to understand the man, not as a killer, but as a fellow human being.

All of this is easier said than done. And that’s precisely the point. To dignify difference necessarily requires the intervention and intrusion of God upon our wills, upon our minds and hearts. There is no human strength that we can muster to empathize with a perceived enemy or an actual foe; there is no amount of human willpower that would cause you or I to sit down across the table with one who has denied our humanity, disregarded our faith and personhood, or tore up our reputations.  It’s takes hard work; it takes God working upon us.

Q/A 105-107 addresses the sixth commandment of killing, of committing murder, and the treacherous terrain that leads to it. Human beings kill with missiles, bullets, and knives; but we also kill with angry Tweets, racist words, sarcastic looks, silent gossip, sexist jokes. Or still worse, outright indifference, apathy, and ignorance of each other, an intentional setting aside akin to the shrugging of the shoulders, and a “whatever…who cares?” kind of an attitude toward each other.  In every respect, any or all of the above denies the other as created in the image of God, placed on God’s green earth to be in relationship with us, and gifted to us for some reason or another yet to be discovered.

Q/A 107 hits the nail on the head (hitting it lovingly, of course! :) – it’s not only that God wants us to withhold from killing each other – that’s toleration; there’s a positive, intentional aspect. To not kill is to play it safe; to move beyond not killing to actually loving your neighbor is taking the ultimate risk; and love takes risk.

God approaching us as Jesus Christ, taking on flesh that was strange to God’s own divine nature – here’s dignifying difference par excellence. To dignify difference is to love our neighbor, is to love God, and is to embody the life of Jesus in us.