WAYPOINTS: When heaven wept

The Rev. Mike Hesse
The Rev. Mike Hesse

On Monday, Sept. 27, heaven wept. The residents of Okaloosa County awoke that morning to a somber sky which later erupted into a torrential rain lasting all day and into the night. It matched our mood, for we were about the sad business of saying goodbye to Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Myers.

The week before, he had been gunned down while serving a domestic violence injunction to a man named Joel Dixon Smith. That injunction included surrendering his firearms. Smith told Deputy Myers that his guns were in his car. As Smith walked behind the deputy as they headed to the car, he pulled a gun he had concealed on his person and shot Bill Myers numerous times. Compounding the horror of the day, the killer himself was killed a few hours later as he confronted officers while still armed.

The service for Bill Myers was profoundly moving. Joining the many citizens and state and local officials were hundreds of law enforcement officers as well as other first responders from throughout the Southeast. Prayers were offered, God’s Word was read and expounded, and songs were sung. But it was the last part which brought many to tears.

Three times we heard the dispatcher call badge number 334, Bill’s number. Each call was met by silence. Then there was a final statement from the dispatcher, “10 7 (Out of Service) and 10 42 (Home). End of Watch." Deputy Bill Myers will never again be available to answer. It was, and is, a recognition that he died while walking what is often called in law enforcement circles “the thin, blue line."

But suspended in the air throughout the service like some corrosive mist causing eyes to tear was the unanswerable question, “Why?” How does a person wrap his mind around something at once so horrific and so senseless? And we are reminded once more that this is a fallen world. No matter how careful we are, no matter how hard we work, we are not in control. None of us knows what tomorrow will bring — or the next hour for that matter. Life can change catastrophically for us or for those around us in a moment. No one escapes suffering. No one gets out of this world alive. Bill Myers and his family have just put a face on those facts. So what are we to do?

We can rage against our circumstances, lashing out at anyone and everyone around us. Joel Dixon Smith chose this path. It killed him even as he killed Deputy Myers. But we don’t have to pull a gun in order to kill or to die. How many people have we murdered in our minds? How many have we treated as if they did not exist? Do we think for a moment that we can do so without spiritual consequences? Haven’t we all known people who have become so hard, so cynical, that they are little more than dead men walking? Perhaps that is a description of some of us.

Others may simply live in fear, certain that around every corner there lurks something which will deliver pain and suffering. So we figuratively curl up in the fetal position and quit living life. We cease to risk situations where we may get hurt. Unfortunately, that necessarily includes relationships with other people. Facebook and Twitter friends are virtual — only real people can hold your hand when you are going through hell. True, real people can hurt us deeply, but only real flesh and blood can laugh with us and cry with us and be there for us just as we are for them.

Still others may try to rise above it all and strive to see the world dispassionately, detached from both its pain and its joys. In the ancient days these folks called themselves stoics. More than a few people today still embrace their philosophy. How sad to feel — nothing. We are, after all, human. God designed us to be much more than the Os and 1s of the world of computers. Is there really value with a mindset that can be reduced to a simple phrase, “Life is hard, and then you die”?

There is a better way. Many of us who were at Bill Myers’ service had the privilege of sensing that “way” so strongly that it overpowered the question, “Why?” and hopefully the lesser options people might be tempted to chose in response to it. Listen to the words of Jesus, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) Do you want a way forward in the midst of this sinful and broken world? Follow Jesus.

And here is the Truth — God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to live among us, to walk in our shoes, to experience both the best of life and the worst that the world, the flesh and the devil could do to any man. The Good News is that he overcame sin and death in his resurrection. And we who follow him get to participate in a life that begins here and continues with Jesus forever.

At Deputy Bill Myers’ service we celebrated life all right. We celebrated that St. Paul was right when he wrote that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38f)

Bill Myers has experienced that for himself. God willing, each of us will realize the same truth as well — and when we do, heaven will rejoice.

The Rev. Mike Hesse was the senior pastor of Immanuel Anglican Church. He is now retired and living in Destin.