The police officer on duty that day felt that this young man had entered the grocery store carrying an item that was inappropriate for a shopping trip, so he politely asked the boy to leave the premises. That simple request unleashed a torrent of anger and verbal abuse as the young man insisted on his right to be there. He stubbornly and vociferously challenged the officer’s authority in asking him to leave.
The store hires the security detail to be an unobtrusive presence in the facility, to deter shoplifting, and to handle any altercations that might arise in the parking lot or on the property. Yet the boy had picked what is surely the busiest spot in the whole store to create his scene – the middle of the wide aisle in front of the checkout lanes. By the time the situation had escalated enough to attract my attention from where I worked at a nearby cash register, the teen had thrown himself down on the floor, crossed his arms and legs in front of him and continued to rage at the injustice he felt was being done to him.
The police officer at that point could have reacted in a variety of ways. With the boy still screaming at him and an interested shopping public watching their every move, he refused to be pulled into a verbal shouting match or an exhibition of force. Instead he simply leaned down over the boy and began to whisper into his ear. The young man had to be quiet to hear what he was saying. For the longest time the officer talked to him, surely encouraging him to rethink his actions and to simply leave the store before his choices led to consequences he’d later regret. With much more consideration than was being afforded him, he gave the youth every opportunity to remove himself from a situation that was rapidly getting out of hand while there was still time to do so. In the end the boy chose not to heed the advice he’d been offered, so the handcuffs came off the officer’s belt and were clamped around his wrists. He was helped off the floor and led to a back room to await the arrival of another cruiser that would transport him to police headquarters downtown.
While the physical action was over in a matter of minutes, the mental image of the police officer leaning over the boy and quietly talking to him stayed with me for days. Instead of shouting in return or using any available means of force to subdue him, the officer simply talked quietly to him and offered the boy a choice.
And isn’t that exactly what God does with us? At one time or another we’ve probably all been in that boy’s shoes spiritually, questioning God’s authority to ask us to behave in a certain way. Sometimes we simply act as we please and then scream at God like an angry and rebellious teenager when our desires are thwarted, He denies a request, or refuses to allow our disobedience to continue. He exhibits the self-control we lack, neither shouting at us in return nor knocking us to our senses. Rather, He simply bends near, whispering His warnings into our ears, hoping His love reaches our hearts and changes our actions.
There’s a biblical progression from “ear” to “hear” to “heart” (Romans 10:17) that sometimes requires more time to achieve than we’re willing to give. Yet God is patient, simply talking to us repeatedly in that still small voice, laying before us our choices and encouraging us to make the right ones while we still have the opportunity to do so. For there will be a time when it will be too late.
Some time later I saw the boy again as he was being escorted to the waiting patrol car. No longer loud and defiant, he walked out of the building with his head down, perhaps regretting the actions he no longer had the power to change, his fiancé weeping behind him as she followed him out of the store.
Perhaps the warning God whispers to us today is simply this: don’t leave this world the same way.
“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…”
(Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV)