As we approach Easter, Marsh Moyle, author of Rumours of a Better Country, reflects on murder

I am writing this on 75th anniversary of the Holocaust. I was 20 when I first went to Auschwitz in 1975. It was a grey winter’s day. The camp had closed 30 years before, but plenty of people were still around from both sides of the barbed wire. Poland was under communism, and the Russians who had liberated the camp were now seen as the oppressors. No culture, nation or person comes away clean when examining issues of oppression. It takes courage to hold the gaze of such a dark subject because the mind’s eye wants to avoid it.

I remember talking with a friend about the depression that lingered over me for weeks after my first visit. He told me I would not come to terms with it until I learned to recognise the anger, envy and hate in my own heart. Occasionally, I have remembered our conversation after moments of rage. Murder describes a reality from which there is no return, and murderous thoughts lurk in us all.

Murder is an act of ultimate domination that presumes absolute authority over another person’s life. It resolves a difficulty by eliminating one of the parties rather than the problem.

The immediate economic and social costs of murder are immense. Our taxes cover income and productivity or added the shock and grief in families and friends who never fully recover.

The psychological consequences of murder engulf neighbours with fear and anxiety about going out, and cause depression, loss of sleep and concentration at work, and use of medication. The list continues, and we have not touched the smallest part of it.   

I assume it will not happen to me, but do I avoid dark alleys? Open the lens wider on society; consider the sanctity of every life – the trafficked, the enslaved and the unborn, separated from home and love, used and thrown on the scrap heap. Lives cut short on the altars of pleasure and convenience. The social costs of our casual attitudes towards others are profound.


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Whose life are you taking?

Thankfully, in many societies, murder is infrequent. Or is it? If murder is the elimination of one of the parties rather than the problem, is there a kind of murder that does not involve physically killing someone?

Once, while preparing for Easter, I used the Decalogue to examine my conscience. The first five words were difficult because there was much that needed repair. When I came to the sixth, “You shall not murder”, I thought with some relief, “At least I haven’t murdered anyone!” Immediately, the faces of two people I was avoiding came to mind. A voice from somewhere said, “They are dead to you, and you are killing the relationship.” It was mutual; they were killing it too.

Murder can take many forms. Consider the language we use to describe our interactions: “He stabbed me in the back”, “She got thrown under the bus”, “Did he jump or was he pushed?” We talk of a ‘cancel culture’, where we banish someone because of disagreements on ideas or behaviour. Someone says of a neighbour, “I will never speak to him again!” as she passes a death sentence on their friendship. It does not result in a knife in the back but a subtler, equally effective form of death fuelled by fear, envy, dishonesty, aggression, pride, self-justification. The more intelligent, the greater the sophistication. Knives are drawn – not of steel but of words, and sharper for it.

Is someone dead to me, even though they are alive? Does the thought of them make my mind spin in endless self-justifying arguments? Who am I avoiding? How am I avoiding them? Do feelings of arrogance or pride cause me to dismiss another person as unimportant? Elimination is much easier than reconciliation and gives the illusion of superiority that reinforces a weak ego. 

Am I too busy to pick up the phone and face a void once filled with friendship? Murderous thoughts and destructive anger are wasteful, ineffective and enslaving. How thin, fragile and rigid relationships can be; people barely communicating, a little polite conversation or pleasantness, a thin veneer to cover fear and mistrust – less risky but less satisfying. Cynicism distorts judgements, which become shallow and hollow, and we feel dead inside. The cost is high and distorts reality.

We hand down the wounds of broken relationships and festering memories through the generations. Perhaps a simple lack of courage and social conformity stop many more physical murders than we realise. Would I kill if I could get away with it?

Hate murder

The instruction from the mountain in Sinai was a shadow, a limited version of God’s standard for people with hard hearts. It was limited to physical murder. Christians believe that when Jesus came teaching about a better country, the lawgiver himself had become a man, and we learned of the infinitely higher standard of his character.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

The man or woman might be a fool, but no one is only a fool. If I judge them as such, I have effectively killed all their other attributes, which are dead to me. I see only through my judgment and do not see the whole person. I have reduced them to my assessment of them and left no place for surprise or possibility. Meanwhile, they feel trapped in the prison of my judgement and struggle for freedom.

Think of how we esteem someone as more valuable because they have more economic power or education; or the cultural prejudice that shouts, “Keep your distance,” when people of different castes, cultures and races come supposedly too close. We defend ourselves at a high cost to the potential of the joy of knowing other people. The familiar and safe blind us to what is real and present.

Some relationships are no doubt so ‘toxic’ that separation is essential, at least for a while. But even if it is toxic for one or both parties, the attempt at reconciliation is better because, in the process, we confront the darkness of our hearts and can begin the journey to freedom.

We need to learn to hate murder in all its forms. Modern society sees hatred as the problem. Our experience of hatred is of the warped, irrational and destructive force that lashes out to destroy anything that threatens us. But like every emotion, hatred is emotional energy we can use appropriately or poorly. A healthy hatred of evil is constructive and informed by a love of the good – not bitterness, resentment or revenge. It confronts the murderous thoughts and overcomes them while not avoiding the issues that aroused them.


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Abundant life

Jesus said: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” But what is an abundant life? It is more than the biology of heartbeats and brainwaves. If death is the painful breaking of communion among people, then abundant life is deep communion, rich in trust and life-affirming. After all, what is more satisfying than the easy companionship of friends who can trust one another, where none has anything to prove, and each may be blissfully unconscious of themselves?

In one of his letters, the apostle John wrote to his friends: “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Eternal life is a quality of life as much as a quantity. It is like a seed germinating and pushing out the old bitter ways as it grows and expands. Broken relationships should disturb believers who have the eternal life of God abiding in them. Of course, we are not perfect and make mistakes, but the general direction of travel should be towards reconciliation, trust and openness. In a better country, life is valued and the dignity of human life is recognised for all, regardless of age or race or disability or status or any other comparison of values. Each of us is valued fully by virtue of our existence.

The desire for communion is a sign that love is growing. A hardness of the heart points to an absence of eternal life. It is God’s will to free us so entirely from murder and murderous thoughts that they would not cast the slightest shadow across the mind. A better country would be free not just from murder, but also from hatred of and between persons and groups.

This vision might feel distant and challenging. Reconciliation is a long and demanding road. Here the ideal confronts the real, and it is wise to be cautious, but we justify broken relationships too quickly. Dead relationships should cause grief, because they do not reflect the Trinitarian communion in God. As God works for our reconciliation, so must we. It is not merely a religious trait but a human one to want reconciliation. We feel the pain of separation as we close our hearts to others. 

The path to abundant life leads through humility, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. ‘Impossible!’ we shout, and, of course, we are right; that is the tragedy of the human condition. We are dead until we have the eternal life of our Maker working within us.

The prize is worth the race, but the price is high. The death of Christ was a murderous act. It was a direct challenge to his authority and power. But it was overcome by the greater power of life, the communion within the Trinity. 

Christ is risen. Our murderous thoughts and hearts have died with him; now they must die in us.


This is an excerpt from Marsh Moyle’s book Rumours of a Better Country: Searching for Trust and Community in a Time of Moral Outrage (IVP).


During the Cold War, Marsh Moyle and his wife Tuula organised book translation and distribution in Central and Eastern Europe. In the post-communist period, they helped people set up publishing houses across the region, ran a learning community, and researched social issues caused by the changes. His work under communism and in the adjustment to democracy and free markets gives him a unique perspective from which to engage with the cultural challenges of today. Marsh now travels and teaches across Europe and works alongside L’Abri, a study centre in southern England.