Reflections on San Bernardino – The Sequel September 16 2016

(Part of BCF’S blog series: “Society, Selflessness, and the Scriptures")

The question of the day:  “Would I be willing to die for another person?”

It has been nine months since 14 lives were taken, and 22 injured, by terrorists on December 2, 2015 in San Bernardino.  I wrote about this in the December 11, 2015 blog, because my office is only about a five-minute drive from where the shootings took place.  We went on lockdown ourselves, knowing the shooters were still at large.

I’m bringing it back up this week because a report was released by the Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services titled:  “Bringing Calm to Chaos - A Critical Incident Review of the San Bernardino Public Safety Response to the December 2, 2015 Terrorist Shooting Incident at the Inland Regional Center.”  It is a fascinating report and highly complimentary of the quick reactions of the law enforcement agencies involved.  The primary thing that got my attention was how many self-sacrificing acts there were that day, and how many additional casualties may have been avoided because of the heroism of the victims and the quick thinking of first responders.  For example:

  • The closest officers to the scene were a San Bernardino detective, a patrol officer, a motorcycle officer, and a staff lieutenant on his lunch break. They converged at the entrance and entered the building together within a couple of minutes, before SWAT officers arrived.  They were armed only with handguns, with full knowledge that the shooters were armed with AR-15 assault rifles.
  • They soon learned that the killers were gone and that three of the county workers died when charging one of the terrorists in an effort to save the lives of their colleagues.  
  • It was a scene the officers will never forget.  They had noted that “the terror in their eyes . . . was scarier than the wounds.”
  • A rookie patrolman was talking to one survivor who said the body language of one of the shooters reminded him of a coworker, Syed Rizwan Farook, who had been at the event but left about a half hour before the shooting started.
  • A crime analyst matched a rented black SUV with Farook and his wife, Malik. Investigators also identified Farook's cellphone number and triangulated his location. A signal off a cell tower said he was in the neighboring community.
  • San Bernardino officers arrived at the Redlands home in time to see a black SUV leaving. They followed, calling for backup officers.
  • The shooters stopped the SUV in the middle of the street and opened fire on the pursuing officers.  This was followed by a ferocious gunfight until the shooters had been killed.  In the aftermath it was discovered that the shooters had further intentions, with over 2000 rounds of ammunition in the SUV and triggers intended for detonating explosives located at the Inland Regional Center where the original shooting took place.  Clearly, they were intent on killing more.  

We are all aware of the valor exhibited on 9/11, the fifteenth anniversary of which we just remembered:  firefighters going up the Twin Towers when others were coming down; passengers rushing the cockpit of Flight 93; individual rescues in the Towers and the Pentagon.  There was no shortage of heroes either there, or in San Bernardino.

It’s hard to know what we would do in those situations until we are actually there.  Would we actually be willing to die to try to save another person?  I expect that most of us who know Christ hope we would be ready even to die for someone else, as we have come to know Him who died for us.

This question reminded me of a story you may have heard from years ago.  There was a volunteer at a hospital who came to know a lovely little girl who was suffering from a rare life threatening disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year-old brother, who had somehow survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. The doctor saw the 5-year-old hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes, I'll do it if it will save her."

As he continued with his blood donation, his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away?" This precious little one had misunderstood the doctor, but showed that he was prepared to die to save his sister.

There is no more powerful passage about dying for another person than Romans 5:7-8:
7 - For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.
8 - But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

One of the seemingly paradoxical statements in the Scriptures is related to this: Luke 9:24, where Jesus said: 
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.

Jesus was speaking not just of physical death here, but of a willingness to sacrifice time, conveniences, and our own comforts, etc. for the sake of Him and others.  Sometimes this kind of death (to self) is the more difficult thing to do.  May we draw upon God’s “grace to help in time of need”  as we seek to live (and die) in this way.

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Steve Smith