Around 9 p.m. on July 7, 2016, I received a text from a friend who was out of town on vacation with his family. The text read, “What is going on in Dallas? Just heard two police officers possibly killed in downtown.” I immediately grabbed my phone to read live local news, and the onslaught of information took over my feed. That night at a protest march in downtown Dallas, the nation watched as Micah Xavier Johnson took up arms and shot at police officers in an attempt to kill as many of them as he could. The ultimate result of his attack left five Dallas officers dead.
Not long ago, I wrote about some of the personal costs that a career in law enforcement can take on a person. As I progressed through my own career as a police officer, I picked up the habit of shutting myself off emotionally. Even now, years after my service ended, it is a rare thing that I would cry tears amid hurt or personal pain. But that night, as the event unfolded and image after image flooded my news feed, some depicting slain officers lying in the middle of the street, I wept. I watched as those I hold a deep bond with fall to the ground. My pregnant wife came over and sat next to me on the couch. She pulled my head onto her lap, and I sobbed the bitter tears of pain.
What we saw in this tragedy was hatred. And it was fueled by unchecked anger. Dallas Chief of Police David Brown spoke about what Johnson had told police negotiators during the assault, “He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.” This was an example of hate at its worst. All the anger Johnson had toward law enforcement and those who likely exhibited hatred to him built until it exploded into an act of rage and murder.
Today, as we look back on this tragedy, mourning the loss of these five police officers, and look forward in light of the racial tensions that still surround us, it’s a reminder of not only what motivates this sort of behavior but also what stops it. The situation is a reminder of how the Church can be the shining example in showing the world the only thing that will bring about true peace and restoration: forgiveness.
Unforgiveness Breeds Hate
If you have ever been angry (that’s pretty much all of us), you’ll know that it baits you in, and deep work is needed to get yourself lifted out of it. You enter tunnel vision and often seek validation to remain in that anger. If that anger is left unchecked, it will become bitterness. And the thing about bitterness is that it only perpetuates the anger. This is where hatred can set root.
Letting anger take root in our hearts will inevitably divide and provide no opportunity for reconciliation or healing.
Hate is insidious in as much as it is intoxicating. It is the prideful elevation of oneself over another. The apostle John, echoing the words of Jesus in the Gospels, clearly tells us that to hate is akin to being a murderer (1 John 3:15). And we know from history that often hate does lead to actual and physical death. Hate drove Cain to kill Abel. Through hate, the chief priests and elders sought to kill Jesus. And even though he failed, Pharaoh in his grieving anger which eventually became an unquenchable hate, unleashed his army to hunt down and wipe out an entire nation. Unforgiveness will often lead to hate which may even lead to murder.
Forgiveness Brings Healing
That is why anger must always give way to forgiveness. If you hang around The Village Church for a little while you will hear a saying that we often use, “It’s okay to not be okay. It’s not okay to stay there.” This most certainly rings true with anger. Paul, in Ephesians, references Psalm 4 and says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph. 4:26-27)
Amazingly, the Bible gives us permission to be angry. It’s okay to hurt and be mad especially in light of the fact that no one can escape the effects of living in a sin-filled world. Yet listen to the exhortation here: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” If we are to understand a single thing from this deadly attack, it is this: letting anger take root in our hearts will inevitably divide and provide no opportunity for reconciliation or healing. On July 7, it led to the death of five public servants and only more hurt.
They stood in the line of fire and sought the protection of those they are charged to protect.
The end of Ephesians 4 gives us encouragement: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
No matter how deep the hurt goes, our anger must always resolve with forgiveness. Lest in our bitterness we give opportunity for people to be turned against one another. God has given us the ultimate example of forgiveness. He has every right to destroy this sinful race of ours. Yet God the Father sends His son, Jesus Christ, to atone for and forgive our rebellion against Him. We too can forgive. It is the only way for true healing to begin in our personal lives and in our communities.
This level of forgiveness is not easy and requires personal sacrifice. It means we have to lay aside our own preferences for the sake of others, give ear to one another and open our hearts to listen. As the Apostle Paul tells us to, “in humility to count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3). The personal sacrifice is not just an extension of forgiveness but also shows that the love of Christ truly lives within those who believe.
The police officers during this attack did what could be expected of a public servant. They stood in the line of fire and sought the protection of those they are charged to protect. Even when the peaceful protest was directed at their very profession. Sgt. Michael Smith, Sr. Cpl. Lorne Ahrens, Ofc. Michael Krol, Ofc. Patricio Zamarripa and Ofc. Brent Thompson laid down their lives for the sake of others. An example of valor and an example of sacrifice, it was love at its best in the midst of hate at its worst.