I'm always fascinated by the glimpses of missionary life in Bill and Lori Smith's weekly newsletters. They serve in Papua New Guinea -- he with national pastors through a Bible college and she through a medical clinic. Life Matters helped the clinic obtain ultrasound equipment that has saved several babies' lives.
In a recent newsletter, Lori related how they'll be taking an evangelistic mobile clinic to Sagifa this Friday. Safiga is the home village of one of Lori's patients who died recently of cancer. Lillian accepted Christ before she died, but her village remains in deep bondage to the forces of evil.
"Sorcery is the iron band that chains her people in fear," Lori writes. When Lillian died in Bill and Lori's home, the village sent a witch "to try to decipher the person responsible for her death so they could be killed."
While this practice is shocking to Western sensibilities, when I consider it in light of the biblical pro-life ethic, I find surprising similarities.
Genesis 9:5-6 says --
For your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God has God made mankind.
Note that the fact man bears God's image is the reason for the death penalty and not a reason for prohibiting it.
It's amazing to me that a seemingly primitive or "backward" culture sees human life as distinct from that of animals and important enough to avenge.
The difference, however, between the PNG tribal understanding of "the sanctity of human life" and the biblical pro-life ethic is that God's word presses societies to determine the cause of a death -- whether it is natural, accidental, or homicidal. The penalty, if any, depends upon the cause. Accidental deaths are treated differently than intentional and, of course, natural deaths caused by old age or disease are not avenged at all.
Exodus 21:28-32 - what to do if an animal kills a person
Leviticus 20:1-5 - what to do if someone offers a child in sacrifice to an idol
Numbers 35:6-34 and Deuteronomy 19 - distinctions between murder and manslaughter
Dt. 21:1-9 - what to do in the case of an unsolved murder
It's also very important to note, furthermore, that the biblical way of determining a cause of death relies on evidence -- not intuition, hearsay, or sorcery. The witch's method serves the agenda of the Enemy, leading to more deaths of innocent people in an endless cycle of revenge and superstition.
God's law requires careful investigation, public inquiry, and the testimony of more than one witness. So we see how societies can pervert God's intent and how biblical justice prevents witchhunts.
Find out what happened when Lori's mobile clinic team went to Safiga