The Secret History

In the novel The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a group of affluent college students decide to murder a close friend of theirs. As the novel unfolds, it at first appears that they decide to murder him because he knows of another—albeit accidental—death they were responsible for earlier in their lives. But as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that their decision to murder him is not rooted in self-preservation but in the simple fact that he annoys them. He doesn’t act in a way they think he should; he mistreats some of them verbally; he is an embarrassment and so it becomes an acceptable solution to eliminate him (Donna Tartt, The Secret History [New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 2002]). The novel is a chilling look into the human psyche and not at all removed from what God knew about the human heart. When God gave the sixth commandment to Israel, he knew that there was more to it than simply “Don’t (literally) kill people.” God understood that a lot goes into the decision to commit murder, and none of it is okay.

The Secret History highlights another challenge to obeying this command in our society: we are becoming desensitized to violence. It is estimated that by the time a child finishes elementary school, they will have witnessed eight thousand murders on TV. When they reach 18, they will have seen two hundred thousand violent acts on TV. (Statistics available here: Jesus recognized that what we saw had a direct impact on our spiritual health. In Matthew 6.22–23 he warned us to make sure we do not fill our life with darkness. Being obedient to this command is not simply avoiding physically harming someone but guarding against violence in our lives.