Peoria is hurting right now, after police shot and killed an armed robbery suspect this week. One synopsis of the situation is that the suspect used a firearm to rob a local bank, then advanced on police -- gun in hand -- after a prolonged stand-off at his home (in which the suspect’s mother even failed to get him to surrender)... suggesting that the fatal shooting was a tragic but unavoidable act of justice. Another synopsis of the situation is that the suspect was a gentle man who, though he had a history of mental problems, had never harmed anyone... suggesting that the fatal shooting was an example of needless, excessive force against a person of color.
So how do we decide whether to commend or condemn the police?
How do we decide if this was at its core a tragedy brought about by the suspect, or at its core a tragedy against the suspect?
Let’s all be in prayer for the man’s family, for the police department, for our community, and for our country in general. Pray for wisdom, pray for strength (moral strength, physical endurance, and strength of character throughout this whole situation), and pray for peace for everyone. Whatever else we may find out about who did what, the undeniable truth is that a man is dead now because of violence that should never have happened.
Beyond that, I’m very proud of my friend, the head of the local NAACP, who said, “We are after the facts first to see what, in fact, happened before I form an opinion or give an opinion.” That’s what we call wisdom -- the ability to take a step back and base your conclusions on the best, most accurate facts as best as you can, rather than allow your conclusions to color the facts and echo whatever you were most prone to believe in the first place.
We talked about that in our message this week, as we began a new series looking at “The Five Solas of the Reformation,” leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at the end of October -- five crucial beliefs that the Reformers held about our relationship with God that drove them to take a stand that still echoes throughout history.
The first “Sola” that we talked about this week was “Sola Scriptura” (Latin for “Scripture Alone”) -- the conviction that our ultimate authority for deciding faith, practice, and living out our lives as Christians must come from Scripture and Scripture alone. We can’t trust Tradition to be our measuring stick, because traditions shift over time (both in practice and in purpose). We can’t trust Church Hierarchies to be the final arbiter of truth, because those are man-made structures staffed by humans as flawed as we are. We can’t trust Culture to be our moral compass, because what constitutes “good” and “evil” in the eyes of the crowd shifts with the breeze -- we like what we like, but only until our own oxen are gored and we decide that “up” should be considered “down” from now on.
So how do we decide whether to commend or condemn an action or a belief?
How do we decide if something honors God or doesn’t? How do we decide if something echoes God’s heart or the broken heart of this world?
Only Scripture never changes, never shifts, never morphs to mirror public opinion... because only the Bible is the inspired Word of God, the moral compass for a world lost and wandering in the darkness. I don’t care how beautiful a tradition is, or how magnificent a church leader appears, or how much our cultural context resonates with us (or not) -- the final arbiter of truth must be God Himself, and the truest, clearest, most accurate accounting of God’s perspective on things is His Word. Everything must be checked against Scripture, and not the other way around. To lean on any other source with the same level of confidence would be the opposite of wisdom -- it would be foolishness.
“Here I stand...”