When the Watchman Fails: Why Being Truly Good Requires Ferocity

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“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”- C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

On February 14, a young man murdered 17 people and wounded several more in Parkland Florida. In the wake of this event people have divided their energies over various tasks, particularly discussing, debating, and more often than is proper, browbeating, over the question of gun control. I think that such conversations can, usually, be profitable and interesting, though they usually devolve into overgeneralization and hysteria if they go on long enough. However, as tragic as this situation is, there is a more disturbing event that happened right alongside it: one school safety officer and three sheriff’s deputies waited for 4–6 minutes before attempting to enter the building.

Four people, each armed and trained, each having sworn to uphold the law, decided, for whatever reason, to not confront the killer while he murdered others in cold blood. On top of that, when Scott Israel, Broward County Sheriff, was confronted by his own department’s failures in recognizing a clear threat and acting on it before hand, he decided that rather than accepting responsibly, the proper course of action was to try to swat accusations away and insist an NRA spokeswoman, Dana Loesch, was wrong about various details of the situation, despite overwhelming evidence of his office’s negligence both before and during the incident.

Say what you will about Mrs. Loesch or the NRA, or even about gun ownership in the United States. I have no particular affection for the NRA and its representatives, and even if I disagree with you about gun ownership, I believe that arguments can be made in good faith on either side. We should also try to be fair and accurate in discussing what Israel and his subordinates did and did not do or know. In the final analysis, however, whatever one may feel about the state of gun ownership in the United States, what should be a common ground here is that the shooting in Parkland reflects a series of abject failures on the part of law enforcement in Parkland and Broward County, and apparently even the FBI.

Whatever consequences you think should or should not be levied against Israel and his subordinates, anyone can recognize that there is a serious problem here. There is a serious deficit in the capacity of those appointed as watchmen to act as such. We expect LEO’s and similar personnel to respond to dangerous situations and persons on behalf of the general public: “To protect and serve,” for example, is the motto of the LAPD and has been adopted by various departments nationwide. This is not, however, intended to be a smear against the police, because the police are not the problem. The failures of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department are symptomatic of something far more important and that is the decay of our collective grasp on what it is to be truly good.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth. The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke. Then I said: Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies.” Is 6:1–5, CSB.

A voice came from above the expanse over their heads; when they stopped, they lowered their wings. Something like a throne with the appearance of lapis lazuli was above the expanse over their heads. On the throne, high above, was someone who looked like a human. From what seemed to be his waist up, I saw a gleam like amber, with what looked like fire enclosing it all around. From what seemed to be his waist down, I also saw what looked like fire. There was a brilliant light all around him. The appearance of the brilliant light all around was like that of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day. This was the appearance of the likeness of the Lord’s glory. When I saw it, I fell facedown and heard a voice speaking.” Eze 1:25–28.

I adore the prophets for several reasons, but chief among them is the fact that a prophet is one who sees the world as it truly is, that is, as God sees it. In the Bible, the prophets had insight that was otherwise unavailable and their words reverberate through history not just as beautiful poetry or prose, but as stark messages that resound with the clarion call, “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts.” Common to the prophets, regardless of their personal flourishes, is the presentation of a God too great for words and I love Ezekiel and Isaiah’s descriptions especially because of how they respond. Ezekiel falls to the ground and Isaiah cries out, “Woe is me!” Far from a self-piteous cry of sadness, Isaiah’s cry is one of fear for what could, and as he sees it, should, happen to him. Both see God as he revealed himself to them, and their response is fear! Despite both knowing that God loves Israel and had been so good to them in the past, delivering them time and time again, they were both desperately afraid until God assuaged their fears and commissioned them. It brings to mind, as quoted earlier, Susan’s fear at the prospect of meeting Aslan. The answer to the question of whether he is safe may trouble some people. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

God is not safe, by any means. He can call universes into existence, alter the course of nature as he pleases, take lives with the barest of effort, and rend the earth open to swallow his enemies. He answers to no one and no force in the universe holds him accountable. Such a being is terrifying to think of and yet, the first place my parents took me when I was born was a church so I could be around people who worship this unimaginably dangerous being! Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing? The answer is simple: God isn’t safe, not in the least. He is, however, infinitely good. God is no butcher, carving and cutting as one does. He is, as Lewis described him in A Grief Observed a surgeon; he is skilled, precise, knowledgable. He wounds, sometimes incredibly deeply, but his wounds are not without purpose.

Before we get lost in some generic notion of goodness, perhaps even one conflated with niceness, let’s get to the chase: there is nothing inherently good about being “safe.” Safe and good often sleep in the same room, but they are not the same. The aforementioned officers were safe as they delayed confronting a shooter, but they could not claim to be good. Too often today, we assume that because someone has generally good manners or is “nice,” that they are good. Nothing could be further from the truth. Notice the words of Jesus in Mark 10:18: “No one is good except God alone.” While he is obviously trying to make a point, what he said is true on its own. No one is good but God, so it stands to reason that he is who we should look to form our opinions on what is good.

When we look to God as our standard of goodness, surprises follow. Sometimes, good looks like killing 185,000 Assyrians in a single night to save people that you love. (2 Kings 19) Sometimes, good looks like walking into a storm and rescuing your companions. (Matt. 14:22–27) Good even looks like incinerating an altar, stone, wood, and all, when the occasion calls for it. (1 Kings 18:30) Perhaps most surprisingly of all, good sometimes looks like walking a crowded road, a cross on your shoulders, to a hill nicknamed “the Skull,” and letting some of the people you created nail you to that same cross so they can mock you as you die an excruciating death, all the while knowing that at any moment, you could summons legions of angels to set you free. In a word, good is intense, severe, or better still, ferocious.

This concept is uncomfortable to some, and understandably so. You might hear ferocious and think of savagery or violence, but think back to the one that is truly good. Everything that God does has an air of intensity to it. Even when he makes his presence known at Sinai to speak to Moses, he comes with fire, smoke, and thunder. (Exod 19) Nothing God does is lacking in intensity. Linguistic debates aside, I would argue that this is the essence of ferocity and, most truly, the essence of good. Good, in its clearest forms, is not mild. A mother gently coaxing her baby to sleep is good and it is far from mild in the intensity of affection on display. A father rolling around in the floor and playing with his kids, though he does not overpower them or hurt them, is not behaving mildly, and what he is doing is truly good. A couple, their marriage freshly consecrated, upon hearing, “You may kiss the bride,” do so in a way that is scarcely mild and yet, it is good. A doctor applying their knowledge and resources to seek out a cure for a patient’s obscure disease is no doubt intense in their endeavor and they are certainly good as they do so. So it is clear that good is ferocious and being truly good requires a ferocity that many of us may struggle to rise to.

This ferocity, however difficult, is what we are called to. We are not called to generic niceness or mild-manneredness, though these are not bad things in and of themselves. We are called, for instance, to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” (Matthew 22:39) and to “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” (Matthew 5:44) These are intense words that demand an intense response. The call of the Christian life, to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23), is a ferocious call, one that requires everything that a person has. So, dear reader, I urge you today, to live ferociously and to be ferocious in your being and doing good. Reject weak displays of “good” that barely rise above saying “Yes ma’am” or “No sir.” Christians serve a ferociously good God who conforms us to the likeness of his Son (Romans 8:29) who himself is the clearest and purest display of who God is (14:9) in all his divine ferocity. We were made to be ferociously good, so let us go forth and live with an unmatched ferocity for the good of all and the glory of God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Update: The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has released a statement, viewable on Twitter, regarding their interactions with the shooter. For reference, see https://twitter.com/browardsheriff/status/967593892492271617

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