Posts tagged ‘Human Heart’

Rayshard Brooks and the Human Heart

The cuts seem to keep getting deeper. The pain seems to keep getting sharper. The questions seem to keep getting bigger.

Another week has brought another unfolding story of a black man shot and killed by a police officer. It all began a week ago Friday when an employee at an Atlanta-area Wendy’s called officers because a man had fallen asleep in his vehicle while waiting in the drive-thru line and was blocking traffic. When officers arrived at the scene, they found 27-year-old Rayshard Brooks asleep behind the wheel and, after rousing him, it became quickly apparent he was intoxicated. The conversation between the officers and Mr. Brooks remained friendly until 40 minutes in when the officers explained to Mr. Brooks that he was under arrest. He began to violently resist the officers, took a taser off one of them, and then, while trying to escape, he turned and attempted to tase them and was shot and killed by Officer Garrett Rolfe.

Mr. Rolfe was immediately fired from the Atlanta Police Department and then, this past Wednesday, felony charges were filed against both officers by the Fulton County District Attorney, who alleges that Mr. Rolfe kicked Mr. Brooks while he lay dying. According to The New York Times:

At a news conference on Wednesday to announce the charges, prosecutors said that Mr. Rolfe declared, “I got him,” after firing the fatal shots at Mr. Brooks. Mr. Rolfe kicked the victim, prosecutors said, while his partner stood on the fatally wounded man’s shoulder.

Mr. Rolfe and his partner, Devin Brosnan, both of whom are white, then failed to render aid for more than two minutes, said Paul L. Howard Jr., the Fulton County district attorney.

These charges, however, are now being called into question in light of the fact that the District Attorney is himself under investigation for corruption, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The GBI has opened an investigation of Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard and his use of a nonprofit to funnel at least $140,000 in city of Atlanta funds to supplement his salary …

The criminal investigation comes at a time when Howard, Fulton’s DA since 1997, is being challenged in the Democratic primary for reelection and is facing allegations of sexual harassment, which he strongly denies.

Some are accusing the District Attorney of pressing charges against the two officers involved in Mr. Brooks’ shooting merely to distract from his own legal troubles. Moreover, the legal counsel for Mr. Rolfe flatly denies the charges the District Attorney has brought against him, saying in a recent television interview that they are simply not true.

Is anyone else wondering which way is up in this case, or am I the only one?

There is still much about this case we don’t know, but this much we do: this case is devastating. It is of course devastating for Mr. Brooks’ family. A wife has lost her husband and four children have lost their father. It is devastating for the Atlanta Police Department, which is now grappling with a deeply disturbing case of alleged police brutality. It is devastating for the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, whose integrity and motivations face serious scrutiny. And it is devastating for our nation, as we not only rightly debate and discuss – but also sadly divide ourselves over – questions of racism, policing, and brutality.

Whenever we are faced with a case like this, and ether of disbelief tends to permeate the air. “How in the world could this happen?” we wonder. “How could people behave so recklessly, so dishonestly, or perhaps even wickedly?”

The prophet Jeremiah famously said:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

Both Jeremiah’s statement and question are important. His statement reminds us that the human heart harbors all sorts of sin. Congresswoman Val Demings from Florida, who used to work in law enforcement in Orlando, recently held a press conference where she outlined the problems she sees in policing. She explained:

When I see things go wrong, just like I did at the police department, there were either one of three things: bad mind, bad heart, or bad policy.

This strikes me as fair summary. But it’s not just a fair summary of a police department; it’s a true summary of human beings universally. We all have “bad hearts.” Indeed, the deceit in our hearts runs so deep that, often, we don’t even recognize the wickedness of our hearts. Hence, Jeremiah’s question of the heart: “Who can understand it?”

The apostle Paul once complained:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. (Romans 7:15)

Like Jeremiah, Paul knew that he did not and could not understand the deceit of his own heart that led him into the wiles of wickedness. His heart was craftier than his goodwill.

We shouldn’t be surprised, then, by our confusion at a case like this one. We can’t quite seem to make moral sense out of it because human hearts, as the Scriptures say, often do not operate morally. Which is why we need not only the warning about the human heart from Jeremiah, but this promise for the human heart from Jeremiah:

“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke My covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:31-33)

God wants to overwrite the wickedness of our hearts with the righteousness of His way. For this promise, we should most certainly pray.

We need better hearts now more than ever.

June 22, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Dioceses of Pennsylvania

In what is the biggest sex scandal to rock the Roman Catholic Church yet, a report from a Pennsylvania grand jury, released last Tuesday, found that over 300 priests from across six dioceses in that state abused sexually abused more than 1,000 victims over a period of 70 years.

As The New York Times explains, the report:

…catalogs horrific instances of abuse: a priest who raped a young girl in the hospital after she had her tonsils out; a victim tied up and whipped with leather straps by a priest; and another priest who was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.

Even more tragically, the report also notes that there are likely many more victims who were and are too afraid to come forward.

How was this able to continue for so long among so many?  According to the grand jury, church officials seemed to have a method of intentionally and even maliciously obfuscating what was happening.  For instance, the grand jury reports that when a sexual assault came to light, church records would never clearly identify a horrific crime like rape.  Instead church officials would employ euphemisms such as “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” to describe the crime.  Many priests who sexually assaulted children, instead of being defrocked, would simply be moved to another parish where their sins were not known.

This is gut wrenching stuff.  But it is more than that.  It is downright wicked.  It is godless.  It is satanic.  But it is also, terrifyingly, human.

What humans are capable of is truly shocking.  History is littered with numberless testaments to the bottomlessness of human depravity.  The prophet Jeremiah aptly describes the horrifying proclivities of the human heart when he says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9)?  Jeremiah is not being hyperbolic here.  The human heart and all it entails – emotions, desires, and drives – really is deceitful above everything else.  There is nothing so dangerous as the human heart.

Jeremiah’s question of the heart – “Who can know it?”, or, as another translation puts it, “Who can understand it?” – takes on fresh meaning in light of this scandal.  It seems nearly impossible to fully understand how any heart can commit this kind of sin for so long against so many.  But even if we could understand the darkness in the hearts behind these crimes, it would, ultimately, do us no good.  Understanding cannot undo a crime, restore a violated little body, or comfort a crushed soul.  What we need is not understanding, but change.  We don’t need to analyze the human heart; we need to guard our own hearts.  In the words of Solomon, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23).

Yes, indeed.  What we do flows from what’s in our hearts.  That is why our hearts must always be Christ’s home.

August 20, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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