Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Would You Stop Someone from Driving Over a Cliff?

Take a close look at the break in the freeway, at the far left side of the photo. It will become very important as you read the following story.

On January 17, 1994, at 4:30 a.m., I was working an early morning traffic car in Santa Clarita, California. The night had been relatively quiet, and, if my memory serves me right, it was unusually warm for January. I received a call to assist the car working the Castaic area on a possible attempted suicide call. Several units rolled because the call indicated that the manner in which the person was planning to kill herself was with a shotgun. The word “possible” meant the desk wasn’t sure what we were going to run into when we got to the location. It turned out that the woman was just mad at her boyfriend and really had no intention of killing herself with the shotgun that was in the house.

Once the situation was resolved, we walked out of the house and got back into our cars. As I started the engine, I immediately felt myself driving backward and up onto the sidewalk. Tony, you knucklehead, I thought, put the car in drive, not reverse. I looked at my dashboard to discover that although my car was moving, it was still in park. And then the ground really started to shake.

Having lived in Southern California most of my life, I was very familiar with earthquakes. I could tell this was a big one. The rest of the deputies who were with me simultaneously came to the same conclusion, evidenced by the fact that we all jumped out of our cars and ran to the middle of the street at the same time.

As the earth shook, we could see transformers exploding throughout the city. To the south, I could see a bluish glow around the peaks of the Santa Monica Mountains, which separate the Santa Clarita Valley from the San Fernando Valley. Electrical explosions and fires already taking place in the San Fernando Valley caused the glow. We would later learn that we were a mere seven miles northeast of the quake’s epicenter in Northridge.

Once the ground stopped shaking, we all got back into our cars and raced south on the I-5 Freeway to Santa Clarita. We had critical facilities to check—places like chemical plants and city government buildings, not to mention the two dams within our jurisdiction. I was the first car in line as we headed down the freeway at about 90 mph. It wasn’t long before my car was airborne, having crossed the first break in the freeway. Fortunately for me, the drop was only a foot or so. I got on the radio to let the other units behind me know that we should slow down, since the freeway south of us might not be there anymore.

Then I heard a call over the radio that no officer ever wants to hear. “Officer down!”

Officer Clarence Wayne Dean, an LAPD motorcycle officer, had been traveling southbound on the 14 Freeway, trying to get to his station. He was unaware that a portion of the 14 Freeway had collapsed, as a result of the earthquake. He drove his bike off the freeway, plunging to his death.

No one from the San Fernando Valley to the south could get to Officer Dean. As far as we knew, the 5 Freeway was still intact. So I raced southbound on the 5 Freeway, hoping to provide help for Officer Dean.

I made my way down the emergency lane, passing the traffic that had come to a complete stop in every lane. I assumed the traffic was stopped due to collisions or just drivers in a state of shock. As I came toward the cars that were stopped in the front of the line, a California Highway Patrol sergeant jumped in front of my patrol car. He waved his hands frantically in the air and screamed, “Stop!”

I hit the brakes and came to a stop just a few feet in front of the sergeant. “We’ve got an officer down! I’ve get to get down to the 5/14 split!” I yelled.

With an equal amount of command presence and volume, the sergeant replied, “I know there’s an officer down! But if you keep driving, in a mile or two you are going to drive off the freeway, too!”

My heart skipped a beat. The sergeant knew something I didn’t. He knew that just a mile or two ahead the 5 Freeway had collapsed near an area know as Weldon Summit. Had he not jumped in front of my car, I would have certainly met the same fate as Officer Dean. I, too, would have driven off the end of the freeway and plummeted to my death. If not for that sergeant (whose name, to this day, I do not know), there would have been two officers killed in the line of duty that morning instead of one (which is still one too many).

I thanked the sergeant for stopping my car. I turned my car around and drove back into the city. I drove around for a while, collecting my thoughts and reflecting on what had just happened, as well as what could have happened.

Looking back at that amazing moment more than fourteen years ago, I am reminded of an important reason why I share the Law and the Gospel with people. I don’t want anyone to drive over a cliff.

What if the circumstances were different that morning, in 1994? What would you think of the sergeant if he simply waved at me as I drove by? What if I had driven over the cliff to my death and the sergeant’s reason for not warning me was that he assumed I would see the break in the freeway and stop, before going over the edge? Or worse: what if the sergeant later articulated that he didn’t think it was his responsibility to tell me about the collapsed freeway? What if he expressed indifference about my tragic death? Would you think he was a good sergeant?

I am grateful to God that the sergeant cared enough about me to warn me about the danger. I am writing this article today, in part, because of the sergeant’s care and compassion.

What would you have done that morning, if you were that sergeant? Would you have jumped in front of my car as he did? Or would you have let me keep driving toward my inevitable death?

What would you have done?

The moral of the story is this. Everyday 150,000 people die. Everyday 150,000 people drive toward that eternal break in life’s freeway. Sadly, the vast majority of them drive right over the side to begin an eternal existence in hell. Who will you warn about the break in the freeway? Who will you warn about the wrath of God to come (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3; Col. 3:5-6; Rev. 6:16-17)?

I could have acted foolishly and ignored the sergeant’s warning. Likewise, people can chose to ignore our warnings about the wrath of God to come. But if we truly care about people, if we are serious about not wanting anyone to spend eternity in hell, then we will lovingly try to warn them. And the most biblical way to do this is by using the Law of God (The Ten Commandments) to show the unsaved person their true condition, before a holy and righteous God (Romans 3:19-20; 7:7; Gal. 3:24). Once they’ve looked into the mirror of God’s Law and have seen themselves in their true light, then the good news of salvation by the grace of God alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone will make sense.

What you will find, if you use the Law the way God intended (1 Timothy 1:8-11), is that, more often than not, people will thank you for talking to them. Sure, some will walk away unmoved. Some will respond with sarcasm or even anger. However, keep in mind that your responsibility as a Christian is not to change a person’s heart and mind. Only God the Holy Spirit can do that. No, your responsibility is to lovingly warn people, share the gospel with them, and trust God to draw people to repentance and faith.

But what you shouldn’t do is simply stand aside indifferent to and unaffected by the fact that tens of thousands of people die every day, with most of them bound for hell (Matt. 5:21-22; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Rev. 21:8). If you do not love people enough to jump in front of their car (metaphorically speaking) and warn them about the eternal danger they face, do you really love God (1 John 4:7-21)?

Tough questions, I know. They are questions I must ask myself everyday. However, I truly believe how we answer these questions will say much about the nature of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful the sergeant jumped in front of my car that morning. My wife was pregnant at the time, with my youngest daughter, Amanda. Had he not stopped me that morning, I may not have lived to see her birth.

Would you stop someone from driving over a cliff? With whom will you share the Law and the Gospel, today?

1 comment:

WayneDawg said...

Great analogy Tony. Keep up the good work!