He Didn’t Shoot

Only a few weeks after the horrific bus crash that saw an entire hockey team collide with a transport truck, my homeland of Canada is reeling again after a tragedy of a different kind. Yesterday a man intentionally drove a van into the busy sidewalk on Yonge St. in downtown Toronto and careened through the crowd of helpless pedestrians, killing at least ten and injuring 15 more. It is yet another disturbing example of mass assault by vehicle that has slowly become a more common form of inflicting crowd violence. The story is still developing and details are coming in, but one thing that is catching some noteworthy attention is the fact that the driver was arrested on the scene.

We are used to incidents of crowd violence by now (sadly), but those stories almost always end with the perpetrator dead by self-inflicted wound or in a shootout with police. In this instance, however, the suspect was subdued unharmed. When I first read that the suspect was in custody instead of being dead, it piqued my interest. That’s weird, I thought. Then not long after, video footage of the arrest surfaced on the internet.

Rather than a swat team surrounding the driver, only one officer is seen confronting the suspect. They have a standoff 20 feet away from each other that is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The officer, with weapon drawn, shouts at the driver to “get down”, while the man repeatedly yells back that he has a gun, dares the officer to shoot him, and even gestures that he has pulled something out of his pocket and aims it at the officer repeatedly (you can’t tell from the video if it is a gun or not). Even still, the officer doesn’t panic and eventually takes the man down to make the arrest.

I don’t intend to make a political statement here, but in this era of public debate over the use of force by police, this incident is sure to be a game-changer. That officer had every right to shoot, and no one would have blamed him one bit. If a maniac just ran over 25 people, got out of his vehicle and started pointing anything remotely resembling a gun at an officer who had no backup and was standing only a few feet away…who could question if the officer pulled the trigger?

I’m not sure what to make of this encounter. I haven’t seen any follow up yet on this standoff, but be sure that more info is coming. As I watched the scene, I had chills up my spine. I’m not sure if the officer is just incredibly well-trained, could see that the man was bluffing, had a gut instinct that worked out in his favour, or just has some serious courage, but I’m 99% sure that in that situation I would shoot. I’m not risking that my wife become a widow and my children grow up fatherless because I over-estimated how much patience to exercise with a crazy and dangerous man.

If I were to be honest, I am really touched by this incident. I’m not even exactly sure what it is. All I know for sure is that the officer had zero intention of shooting the man if he didn’t absolutely have to, even after he made an advance at him in the street. This is one powerful example of peace overcoming violence.

I am not at all suggesting that police officers don’t have the right to defend themselves. It’s just the opposite. They do have that right, and if any officer ever had the right to fire away, it was that lone cop standing in the middle of Yonge Street. Everything was gearing towards a violent takedown. And yet it wasn’t.

It might seem strange to say, but in some ways that incident reminds me of God’s love for me. In my own wickedness, I am hostile to God. I am confronting him with taunts and weapons drawn. I’m asking for a fight, and although he could take me down if he wanted, and would have every right to do so, he doesn’t. I may be willing to shoot at him, but he’s not willing to shoot at me. That’s the essence of the cross. Jesus comes among sinners who hate him, and rather than defend himself, he lays down his life. He moves in on us, his enemies, not to start a fight but to bring peace. And he does it at great cost to himself.

It is a healthy reminder that I am not worthy of God’s love or forgiveness. I’m not worthy of him offering terms of peace. I stand before him guilty as charged and worthy of his wrath. But to think that he would spare me, and move in on me with love, is a thought that I wish I appreciated more greatly. After being a Christian for a while, you begin to forget how powerful the miracle of salvation is—that GOD would show his love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ would die for us.

Forgiveness. Peace. Salvation. We can’t earn it, and we sure don’t deserve it. But he offers it. And for that I am eternally grateful.

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