A timely item from Mbird contributor Russ Masterson:
In California on Memorial Day a suicidal man walked into the San Francisco Bay, treading water for a while, then eventually drowning. You can read CNN’s report here. Apparently, the whole scene was observed from the shore by a group of firefighters. CNN refers to them as “rescuers,” though I’m not sure it’s right to call a group of onlookers to a tragedy that. Of course, it’s also not fair to massively belittle people who were doing as they were told — the fire department had a policy in place that did not allow firemen to enter bodies of water.
I’m no firefighter, and I’m no saint either, but forget the policy. Get in the water!
This is a classic, and tragic example of difference between the Spirit and the Letter of the law. Christ would have had a field-day. Mercy should overrule law. Grace should pummel policy. I’m not just speaking for the situation in the bay. I’m also speaking of your situation and mine. The law binds us to performance. Any law, Old Testament moral or ceremonial law, or even the tirade of obligations and duties piled on a new Christian in many churches, all of it binds.
But the law is not the final word. Grace frees what the Law binds. This is why Paul writes such a fiery letter to the Galatians after the church, which had received the gospel of grace, turns back to the toil of tradition and behavior.
Perhaps you say, “What about James? What about that book in the New Testament with so many rules and duties?” Good thought. I haven’t forgotten about James, but you can’t read James forgetting about all of Paul’s works — Romans or Galatians or Colossians. You live James’ duties through the freedom of Paul’s theology. It doesn’t work the other way around. I remember reading about the famous, yet poor, rabbi who said, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.”
The gospel of mercy and grace, the message of “you are already loved,” frees us to live without the self-absorbed manic analysis of whether or not we’d lose our fireman job if we stripped our fire suits off, threw our boots in the bushes, and dove into the bay.
According to the report, the policy has now been changed, giving the commander discretion considering the circumstances.