Servants of the Sanctuary, Part 1

Nobody should ever die alone. Yet it happens all the time.

A veteran policeman in town suffered a serious drinking problem. He kept it quiet for fear of losing his badge.

Meanwhile at home, life was falling apart. Officer John yelled at the kids and their friends, causing chaos. As for his marriage, “for better or for worse” became worse than imaginable or acceptable. Tough love was his wife’s last resort. She warned John that, if he came home drunk again, she wouldn’t let him in the door.

He did, and she didn’t.

Homeless now, John resorted to a cheap motel with a bright yellow sign that belied its bleak environment. Retreating to his private panic room, John lay on the bed to contemplate his future. He didn’t bother to get beneath the sheets. About midnight he sat up on the side of the bed, pulled out his service revolver and shot a bullet through his tortured heart.

The gunshot announced John’s death. Now he was beyond help. By the time I arrived as the police chaplain on call that night, his body was gone and the room was empty. Too late for ministry, I knelt on the faded blue carpet, close to the small circle of congealing blood.

Within reach of John’s pillow, in plain sight, was a Gideon Bible. John couldn’t have missed seeing it when he entered the room and switched on the bedside lamp.

I reached for the Bible, flipping through its pages of printed notes offering self-help from God: verses for when you’re lonely, verses for overcoming addictions, verses for coming to Christ. All of them bore testimony for God in cold black type.

If only John had reached for that Bible instead of his pistol. That was a chilling thought. Then another possibility, even more haunting, suggested itself: Maybe John did reach for that Bible, scanned a few verses and put it down, hopeless as before.

For some who seek it, God’s grace seems like candy on top of the fridge — tantalizing and desirable but far beyond reach of a toddler. Sometimes you need a friendly human boost to grasp the gift. People yearn for a human word to understand the written Word.

God’s Human Touch

Too bad nobody was there for John the policeman as he reached past the Bible to grasp the gun. I’m not blaming anybody. His wife had done everything she knew to save her husband and their kids. There was a Pentecostal church around the corner where I prayed every Thursday morning with the pastor, a fellow chaplain. Like Phillip, we both would have hurried to the side of someone in crisis. In fact we did it all the time. I just got there too late for John.

God alone can judge John, so I’m not blaming him either for what he did in that lonely motel room. Nor am I excusing anything he did — either to his family through the years or to himself that last dark night. But obviously help seemed too far away, even help from God.

Sometime our minds are just too confused to get much out of ink on paper — even though it’s the Word of God in print. We need the Word made flesh.

The Living Word

When Jesus walked this weary wasteland, He came as the fountain of God’s living word — refreshingly personal. The spoken word hadn’t accomplished enough in Old Testament times. Yahweh had talked to the world many times in various ways. Finally He Himself came, up close and personal, in Jesus. And the world has never been the same since “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us … full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

It was our living, loving God who wiped the tears of worried mothers and gave gleeful children horsey rides on shoulders muscled by hard labor. He slept on the lakeshore with snoring disciples and showed skeptical fisherman how to catch human souls with love more than bait on a hook.

It wasn’t long before the world was fed up with the living bread from heaven. Only by a miracle did Jesus survive the wrath of organized religion long enough to be nailed to a cross. But He didn’t let that happen before creating and commissioning a new human race called the church.

Jesus arose and ascended to become our heavenly high priest. And we are His community of priests on Earth, servants of the sanctuary. As it is written: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).