Oscar Pistorius is a legend in South Africa. We call him the Blade Runner due to his unique blade-like prosthetics. Pistorius lost both his legs before his first birthday, but that didn’t slow him down for a second. Not only is he a gold medalist and world record holder in the 400m Paralympic event, but he has competed as a world-class sprinter alongside able-bodied athletes in World Championships and the Olympics. That will put a spring in anyone’s step. But then tragedy tripped him up in a mystifying, allegedly split-second, decision.
On Valentines Day he shot and killed his girlfriend in the early hours of the morning by shooting through a locked bathroom door.
In a country that enjoys most of its legal drama vicariously (thanks OJ, President Clinton, and the cast of The Practice), this bizarre story of supposed self-defense has set off the South African media in a spectacular steeple-chase for the truth, through the obfuscation of cockamamie testimony and a badly blundered Police investigation (we are handicapped by the absence of a “CSI Pretoria” unit).
The drama will no doubt soon be a film with sub-titles. But in the meantime no one can make out they what, why, and how of this debacle.
Currently, the case centers around whether this was pre-meditated murder, or self-defense. That’s quite a gap to traverse, even for the most dexterous attorney. For the defense to have any leg to stand on, it needs to prove that it is reasonable for a person to shoot multiple times through the locked bathroom door of their own home, convinced they are under attack.
To most foreign spectators, this seems as utterly implausible. But in South Africa a domestic bump in the night usually means an armed intruder. This beleaguered country holds the dubious records for violent crimes, armed robbery, burglary, and car-jackings. Our besieged citizenry lives ensconced in the fortifications of their efforts at self-preservations. Many people have taken to living in a gated communities, with guards, electric fencing, motion-detectors, burglar alarms, and panic buttons linked to armed response units. My neighbor, in eye-watering desperation, has an alarm that triggers a gas emission that floods the house with pepper spray. (Seriously).
Many South Africans live in a settled state of alert concern for their security. Crime is the most prevalent reason given for the popular dream of emigration (i.e. exiting the country, not to be confused with its close cousin, immigration, which also shoulders some of the blame for crime).
So, it is not by any means outrageous to consider the possibly of a judge deeming shooting in one’s home to be an act of accidental manslaughter in self-defense. Earlier this year a father was indicted for the tragic accidental killing of his six year old daughter when he shot through his bedroom door into the hallway, also in a paranoid assumption that the doorknob was being tampered with by a violent aggressor.
It is this culture of fear that paralyzes common sense. The solution is not control the guns more (as a I argued in “What works better than gun control?”). Increasing the police force, enlarging prisons, enforcing sentences, are all legitimate efforts to outrun the fear. But eventually we need to realize that life can be lived to God’s glory within the turmoil. The option to remove it, curtail it, or escape it is not always available. In those times believers in the good and sovereign God have another recourse. We can take hope in our God’s sovereignty, lay up treasures in heaven, and rest in the peace of a secure salvation.
The prophet Habakkuk had the lyric aptitude of a Bob Dylan and the theological acuity of a John MacArthur. He was told by God in chilling detail that he would experience in his lifetime the bloodthirsty invasion of the Chaldeans. He knew with terrifying certainty that there would be no safety, no food, no resources, and no escape from a breathtakingly frightful death. His response was to shake with fear, but simultaneously stay surefooted in his trust of God’s goodness and the security of his salvation.
I hear, and my body trembles; my lips quiver at the sound; rottenness enters into my bones; my legs tremble beneath me. Yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon people who invade us. Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. (Habakkuk 3:16-18).
The remedy for the choking fear that smothers us is to love one’s own life less. What South Africa needs is more Christians who are not clutching onto this life with so much white-knuckled intensity that they forget who is in charge of their bodies and souls (Matt 10:28). Jesus does not want his followers to be so distracted by worry and fear that they cannot function in this life to the glory of the Father (Luke 12:29-34).
What South Africa needs is an influx of courageous missionaries.
And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rom 10:15)
Even without a supporting agency, simply moving, working, and living here by choice, is a testimony to a watching population. I love and admire the American, British, and Canadian missionaries in our flock, who have leapt from the safe nest of their homelands and landed on our unsettled soil with both feet.
And to my fellow South Africans, remember Habakkuk’s message. When you feel like your legs are useless from trembling in fear, only God can restore the surefootedness of your faith.
God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:19).