A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death; let no one support him. Proverbs 28, verse 17.
This is some pretty sour medicine. At men’s Bible study last night we were talking about law and Gospel, and how so much of Scripture is categorized as either law or Gospel. If you haven’t heard of this, God’s law is written on our hearts to speak to us of our need for His Gospel; God’s Gospel is written on our hearts because we are defined by law. Without law telling us of our sins, we need no Good News; without Good News, the law of our sins is damning. It’s like a yin-yang kind of relationship; one is needed for the other. It’s about Him, for us yet for Him as well because law and gospel reveal sides of God’s character and His personality. One is holy justice, the other is holy love. Both are fused together and, as we understand them, separate but distinct. I suspect, though, in the life to come we’ll understand this differently.
But that’s later. This is another part of reality. Friends, this is a law verse. It means much more than just killing, though, because the penalty for our sins is death, namely our own. You will die because of sin. There is no other reason. If you deliberately cause the death of someone else, you’re guilty of one of the most heinous crimes possible. For the dead believer, it’s all ‘mission accomplished time.’ They move on to the next and most fulfilling phase of life. For you, however, you’re in a world of hurt, unending hurt. Murder carries consequences beyond human justice. If you have even a sliver of conscience, it’s the hardest thing to live with. Do it and you’ll learn that terrible lesson. I don’t make the rules here: I’m just telling you the way it is. Don’t shoot me, the messenger: it would be murder.
And I don’t want you to be tormented by the guilt of murdering me or anyone else. A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive till death: alone, no matter where he goes, he won’t find rest or comfort from that guilt. A guilty conscience is a tough thing to live with. If yours doesn’t feel guilty, I celebrate you and am thankful it doesn’t. I’m also highly doubtful of it. I know first-hand how it feels to have a thought, a memory, a stabbing pain torment you. Take it from me: it’s hell to live with a guilty conscience. A guilty conscience can be an effective playground for the devil. Real torment is involved. I’ve known people tormented enough by their guilt who contemplated suicide; I am one of them. We’ve all known people who succeeded at it.
I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel to know I’ve murdered someone. The closest I’ve come is that anger and the depression surrounding suicide. That’s bad enough. To live with the knowledge of having taken away another’s life is unbearable. Sure, the ganstas, defense attorneys, and Dexter can all portray it as just another series of complex emotions. Barbra Streisand. The verse tells of something different, something much more trustworthy.
In ancient days, the penalty for murder was death. Deliberately kill someone and the authorities would deliberately kill you. Aren’t you glad that you live in a place where lawyers can define down the meaning of murder? Ok, maybe that isn’t something to be happy about. After all, it could just be that our ancestors had a better grasp than we do on the gravity of certain things. It could just be that, by defining down the meaning of murder, we desensitize people to what a terrible thing it is to deny someone God’s gift of human life. It could just be that we are trying to sugar-coat something that can’t ever be made sweet, understandable or palatable. Our ancestors better understood how destructive and terrible that was. It’s time we recapture that understanding.
We can do that by getting back to the basics, by understanding that some things are off limits because they truly are terrible. Go ask a murderer on death row if they would prefer to be living on the outside. Better yet, go ask someone doing life without parole if they would like a do-over on the murder that landed them in prison. Go ask the gang-banger homeys if murder in the name of pride is really worthwhile. Go ask someone who has deliberately killed another human being if they are bothered by the guilt of it, if they are punished by it daily, even minute by minute. If they tell you anything, most of those people will tell you what a terrible thing it is.
This isn’t “Sons of Anarchy,” “Dexter” or some TV crime show. This is real.
There’s more. Here’s where we can see the verse can be extrapolated to include more than just killing. Substitute your favorite sin for “murder” and you can see the seriousness of it. A man tormented by the guilt of adultery will be a fugitive till death; let no one support him. A woman tormented by the guilt of lying will be a fugitive till death; let no one support her. A boy tormented by the guilt of stealing will be a fugitive till death; let no one support him. A girl tormented by the guilt of envy will be a fugitive till death; let no one support her. You have the picture now; how does it look?
Not only this but, when things are bad, you’re on your own and that’s the way it is supposed to be. People aren’t supposed to coddle us in our sins. We don’t get leniency for ‘trying’ or for having good intentions. If we’ve messed up, we own it. The people around us are supposed to shun us, scorn us. We reap what we sow; we get the consequences of our actions. It’s both justice and human nature, and sometimes that means life in a cell or a walk to the death chamber. That’s just the way it is.
Pretty hopeless, don’t you think?
There is no ‘gospel’ (or ‘good news’) present in this verse. The law points to our soul’s need for God’s gospel, for some way out of the spiritual damnation that can come if we harden our hearts to these things. Left alone, this verse is an observation about the damned. If it is read alone, it is hopeless. To hear gospel, you need to read elsewhere. There are whole books in the Bible that either directly tell of the Good News or explain how to live out the Good News. Read this verse, then go check out the New Testament. Murderers need it and can find honest forgiveness there. You’re as guilty as one of them. You need it too. So do I.
God doesn’t bring calamity, sin or torture into our lives here, but He does stand back and allow us to bring them in: all so that we might instead pursue His Good News and be saved. If you want to know more, check out those books or get with me and I’ll point you in the right direction. Until then, I want to leave you with these questions: how long will you let the hurt go on and what are you prepared to do about it?