Photo Courtesy: Universal Pictures
When the movie Bruce Almighty was released, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of what the movie seemed to be projecting. For a long time I refused to watch it since I was sure it would prove to be sacrilegious. After hearing more about the movie I decided to take a chance and watch it. I believe the movie at its core, was in fact, sacrilegious, but the more I watched it the more I began to see one of the statements it seemed to be making.
If you have never seen it, it is simply about a television news reporter, played by Jim Carrey, who gets fed up with the way he thinks God has been treating him. He blames God for many of his misfortunes, particularly, as it relates to his career. This attitude festers in him to the point that he begins calling God names such as a bully and “Almighty Smiter.” Then God, who is played by Morgan Freeman, gets fed up with Bruce and decides to turn the tables.
For a period of time, God gives Bruce all of His power and lets him do with it as he pleases, with two exceptions; he can’t tell anyone he is God and he can’t mess with free will. With this exchange of power, it is “God’s” intent to show Bruce, who thinks “God” isn’t doing a very good job, he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So he gives Bruce all His powers to see if Bruce can do any better.
Even those who have not seen the movie can probably guess the outcome. Bruce eventually surrenders all to God and concedes to the fact that being God is not what he thought it would be. One of my favorite parts is when Bruce is literally down on his knees and cries out, “I surrender to your will.”
But during the time he has The Power, like anyone of the human race, he takes advantage of the power and authority he has and uses it for not so noble purposes. Even when he is trying to help those who need God’s help, his motives are selfish.
As law enforcement officers, we too are in positions of power and authority. You have probably been introduced to that infamous Biblical passage of Romans 13; “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. (Romans 13:1, 4)
According to the Civil Rights page of the FBI’s website, which refers to this authority as the Color of Law, “U.S. law enforcement officers and other officials like judges, prosecutors, and security guards have been given tremendous power by local, state, and federal government agencies—authority they must have to enforce the law and ensure justice in our country. These powers include the authority to detain and arrest suspects, to search and seize property, to bring criminal charges, to make rulings in court, and to use deadly force in certain situations.”
We have the God-given authority to take life changing actions against the citizens of our communities. And as such, this authority we have must be handled very carefully.
Although many people’s actions lead them to be deprived of their freedom, the authority we have to take away that person’s freedom is a serious responsibility. How do we do that? Consider just a few very simple suggestions.
Learn From the Past.
The fact that the U.S. Government has had to clearly define what our authority means and how it should be executed is proof positive that it has been a problem in the past. Like everything, such definitions and policies are born out of the way some knuckle head in years gone by has abused this authority and robbed someone of that which our constitution holds to be valuable. Such governmental decisions come from a situation where some law enforcement officer has unnecessarily executed his or her authority in an effort to either save face or to make an impression.
I am of the conviction that just because I have the right to exercise the authority that has been entrusted to me, such as making an arrest that is based on probable cause, doesn’t mean I always have to make the arrest. I understand that there are times when a decision has to be made in the twinkling of an eye and the better part of caution was part of the basis of an arrest. This is of particular importance when an officer has to make that split-second decision to execute that authority in the use of deadly force. But, as the old adage says, those who refuse to learn from the past are destined to repeat it.
Consider Where the Authority Comes From.
The government’s ruling goes on to say that “preventing abuse of this authority, however, is equally necessary to the health of our nation’s democracy.” That’s why it’s a federal crime for anyone acting under ‘color of law’ to willfully deprive or conspire to deprive a person of a right protected by the Constitution or U.S. law. ‘Color of law’ simply means the person is using authority given to him or her by a local, state, or federal government agency.
Although this tells us that our authority is entrusted to us by local, state or federal government it actually comes from the One who put this whole thing in place. Back to that passage in the Bible, the Apostle Paul tells us that “there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Since God is the One who has put this authority in place we should be using great care and caution when we have to use it. I also believe this tells us that we will be held accountable as to how we execute this authority under the “color of law.” We should be discharging the duties of the office we hold in a way that God would be pleased.
This does not mean that we have to let people off the hook just because God is a God of compassion and mercy. He is also a God of justice, law and order. He has put this system of the “governing authorities” in place to keep this world in some kind of order. He uses men and women who wear the badge and who carry the “sword” to bring about justice on this earth and to do good.
We will never do it perfectly.
We will make mistakes and hopefully whatever mistakes we do make are made in an act of “good faith.” But God wants us to execute the authority we have been given in such a way that society will benefit for the good and He will be glorified by it all. It just comes down to doing our job in a way that is pleasing to Him and remembering where our “power” comes from.
Sergeant David Underwood is a 12 year veteran of the Moultrie (GA) Police Department. He currently serves as the department’s evidence custodian, crime scene technician, general instructor and department chaplain. Prior to law enforcement, he was a pastor for two decades.