“For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”–John 1:17
Twinsburg, Ohio, police officer Joshua Miktarian got one handcuff on Ashford Thompson when he stopped him early that Sunday morning. When police arrived at Thompson’s former home in Bedford Heights to arrest him in Miktarian’s death, that handcuff still dangled from Thompson’s wrist.
They arrested him at 2:41 a.m., less than an hour after Miktarian stopped Thompson’s car for loud music and suspected DUI. Two minutes into the traffic stop, Miktarian radioed for help. Almost simultaneously, a 911 caller reported loud shouting and “pop” sounds. A minute later, police dispatch radioed Miktarian, but there was no response.
He was pronounced dead at MetroHealth Medical Center at 2:48 a.m., a homicide caused by multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Miktarian was 33.
Prowling the Web sites produces story after story of state troopers and sheriff’s deputies killed in the line of duty. The list of fiefighters is no shorter. Some die in blazes. Some die of crashes on the way to the site.
On Sept. 11, 2001, 23 New York City police officers, 343 New York City firefighters, and 37 Port Authority officers lost their lives while responding to the terrorist attack. Since that terrible day, the day, as one song has it, the world stopped turning, we’ve taken another look at these people. We’ve begun to realize what difficult and dangerous jobs they have. They deal with things they shouldn’t have to so we won’t have to.
You think of a firefighter battling with water, not against it; but on June 22, 2006, that notion was heroically, tragically challenged. A flash flood hit sections of Wellington, Ohio. Two teens attempted to drive their vehicle through a flooded roadway. They were trapped as floodwaters rose around them. Wellington firefighters and EMTs were dispatched to the scene and rescued the teens. While attempting to reach them, however, fireman Allan “Buz” Anderson Jr., was swept away under the current and drowned. His wife said he would have forgiven the 17-year-old boy who drove around “Road Closed” signs.
Every day, firefighters and police officers lay their lives on the line-for those who don’t deserve it. Not just criminals but thoughtless people. They fall asleep with a cigarette dangling from their fingers. They leave the range burning. They ignore a “Road Closed” sign. They barrel down the highway, fiddling with the radio instead of paying attention to the road-and to the trooper or deputy who might be helping somebody change a tire. Police officers and firefighters lay their lives on the line-only, suddenly, to be pushed over that line.
Their sacrifice reminds me of Romans 5:7: “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Let me paraphrase: We can understand someone dying for someone worth dying for, but cops and firefighters die too often for people who don’t appreciate them.
Brothers and sisters, if we appreciate Jesus’ dying on the cross, a sacrifice made in a foreign land 2000 years ago–if we adore Him for it–shouldn’t it be easier to appreciate the sacrifices of police officers and firefighters? If we wince at the jeers and scorn heaped on the dying Son of God, who only came to help us, shouldn’t we think twice about making jokes about cops? If we realize not only the burden of the cross that Jesus bore but the burden of sheer power He bore, surely we ought to realize the burdens-and the temptations–of power for those who enforce the law.
“He could’ve called ten thousand angels to destroy the world and set Him free!” But He didn’t, did He? When an officer of the law carries deadly force in a holster, if he’s a decent person, he knows what that power can do to a human being. Hopefully, it gives him a greater respect for human life, makes him a kinder, gentler person. I know we can always find a story of police brutality or plain insensitivity. Wherever power is, there is evil. I must say, however, that the great majority of city police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers I’ve met have treated me courteously, even with grace.
Abraham Lincoln said, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Let’s talk about power for a minute. Not the power of the police officer, our power. Let’s talk for a minute about the place where most of us meet the officer of the law. Let’s talk about driving.
What is a car to us? It’s not just a means of getting place to place, is it? It’s power! We zip ourselves up in these two-ton suits of steel, rubber and glass and then…express ourselves!
Several years ago, I worked part-time as a driving instructor. I tell you, if I believed in nothing else the Bible taught, I’d believe in human sin because I’ve watched it through the windshield, seen it in the rearview mirror. I’ve seen pride and arrogance, childish impatience at one end, downright nastiness on the other. For our cars are power; and, as Lincoln said, give a person power, and you’ll find out what he’s made of.
But that power can be deadly. We don’t think of our pick-up or mini-van as a potential killer, but the statistics say otherwise. I used to tell my driving students, when you get behind the wheel of your car, you’ve just cocked the trigger on a loaded gun. Yet we are so blithe, so unthinking about the power we have.
So when we get a ticket, we get ticked. We don’t realize how easily we get off! We don’t realize that, by restraining us, the ticket writer might well have saved somebody’s life. What’s more, he might have saved us from a lifetime of regret and remorse. So let’s not complain about the cop who wrote us up, let’s rejoice that our power can be restrained.
That’s what the law does. It restrains us, like a leash on a dog. It doesn’t make people good; it restrains the evil in them. So thank God for the law (traffic laws, at least!) and those who enforce it. Next time you get pulled over, realize that the deputy or trooper taught you a lesson on the benefit of the law. Instead of sullenly accepting the ticket, say “Thank you, teacher!” (Just make sure the teacher doesn’t mistake it for sarcasm or he’ll quickly enroll you in the advanced course!)
But it doesn’t always work that way, does it? The police not only teach law, but grace. I knew a fellow who was late for work. Heedless of the danger, he did 40 in a 20-mile-per-hour school zone. The officer who pulled him over asked if he was aware the state legislature had passed a law to suspend the licenses of such speeders-on top of a $500 fine. The driver gulped. He didn’t know. Taking pity on Speedy Sputter, the officer wrote him a warning and told him to be careful.
After that, believe me, I have been!
What do we call that if not grace? The thing we don’t expect; the thing we don’t deserve.
But God’s grace goes even further than that. We read from Romans 5 how God demonstrates His love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This adds a whole new dimension to grace. He didn’t simply let us off with a warning. I was greatly relieved not to have to pay 500 bucks (just the thought of not having to go home and tell Barb was an enormous relief!). I wonder how I would’ve felt, though, if I’d later received a letter telling me that the policeman had paid my fine for me? I would’ve thought, Is this a joke? Letting me off is one thing, but paying for what I did with his own money…?!
This is the grace of God. This is the grace from which every gratuity, every surprise and delight flows. Jesus paid it all. As Paul wrote, “For by grace are you saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Why should we honor the police? Because they teach us a little about the law we’ve all broken and the grace we all can receive.
I’ve said very little about firefighters. I’ve never been a firefighter, but I’ve been around them. I’ve stood outside burning homes with families who’d barely escaped with their lives. I’ve stood and watched while these men did their work. They breathe smoke. They step on floors that could give way-as, in fact, happened to two Cleveland area firefighters last spring. Sometimes they find beloved pets that didn’t make it out. They wrap them in blankets and carry them so gently to their grieving owners. With watery swords they battle the flaming beast. They don’t always win; they don’t always live to tell the tale.
Let’s not forget those heroic emergency medical technicians either. One tells about kneeling over a mangled body that is still alive, while cars whiz by and snow and ice rain down overhead. Police officers, firefighters, EMTs: these are flesh-and-blood human beings. They’re not saints. They’re sinners like everybody else. They don’t want to be called hero. If you call them that, they’ll either say they’re just doing their job or they’ll walk away embarrassed. The big thing about them is, they remember. They remember and honor their fallen comrades.
These people teach some very valuable lessons: courage and devotion to duty, of course. They teach us the great frailty, and therefore the great preciousness, of life. But the lessons go deeper. They teach us about law and grace.
When I say “law,” I’m not just talking about those on the books, but those written into life-the law of cause and effect. The law that says you don’t play with fire. If you do, get burned. The law that says you don’t drink and drive. If you do, people will suffer.
But these men and women teach us grace, too, because they enter into human suffering, into the smoke and stench of human life, into death itself to rescue, to protect and to serve.
That’s grace–the surprising thing, the delightful thing. The thing we don’t expect but which we crave.
In the book True Blue, there’s the story of officers trying to help a little boy retrieve a G.I. Joe doll from the sewer. First one disgruntled cop, then his partner and then their disbelieving sergeant shows up. The officers lie on their blue-shirted bellies, fairly popping their shoulders from the sockets as they grope for the doll. The story goes from bizarre to comical to heartwarming as a triviality becomes a necessity and finally a victory.
Did they have to do that? Did they have to mess up their nice uniforms, taking precious time in pursuit of a child’s toy? Of course not.
Nor did God have to enter this world of lost and weeping children. He didn’t have to pierce the membrane of pain and evil. He could’ve remained aloof and above it all. He could’ve said, “It’s your problem. I’ve got more important work in some other galaxy.” But He didn’t. He sent His only Son to save us. He came as a human being. He came not to condemn the world but to save it. “The Law came through Moses. Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” We can’t honor the Lord without honoring those who remind us of Him. If we honor Him, we must honor them.