Recently I had the opportunity to interview Detective J. Warner Wallace for episode two of my podcast. In the episode, we talked about detective stories, his conversion from atheism to Christianity, and the reliability of the Gospels.
One portion of the podcast that stuck out to me involved a detective story that illustrates the difference between believing that something is true, and believing in something.
Detective Wallace recalled an officer-involved shooting (OIS). As a homicide detective, it was his job to investigate OIS’s. The officer involved (who lived, by the way) had pulled over a driver he suspected was drunk, but this routine stop was about to take a turn.
The man driving the vehicle, unknown to the officer, had actually just been released from prison; he was on parole. Tucked in his waste-band, also unknown to the officer, was an illegally-owned firearm.
At this time, in southern California, a parolee caught with possession of a firearm would immediately return to prison with a year sentence. As the parolee exited the vehicle at the request of the officer, he had a decision to make. He would surely be patted-down in a matter of seconds and the officer would find the gun, and he would be headed back to prison where he was just released. His only other option was to use the gun, and that’s what he did.
The officer asked the parolee to turn around and face the car, so that he could check him for weapons. As the parolee turned his back to the officer, he pulled the gun and pointed it at the officer’s chest. Time froze.
The officer had been caught off guard. What could he do? Not even Doc Holiday could draw a pistol as fast as he would need to here. There was no way he could draw his gun, the parolee already had his gun pointed at his chest. He could try to jump to the side, but the odds of that working aren’t very good. He was too far away for a takeaway move, so that was ruled out as well.
In this split second, the officer made (probably) the most difficult decision of his life. He decided that he was going to have to trust in his bullet-proof vest. He had seen the vest tested on the gun range. He had seen it shot up close, at 5 yards, at 10 yards, etc. The vest stops bullets. He knew it would hurt, but he also knew it wouldn’t penetrate. And this might give him enough time to draw his weapon.
Could you even imagine? That’s one of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard. Detective Wallace said that this illustrated the difference between “belief that” and “belief in” to him. The officer believed that the vest could stop bullets because he had seen it do so on the gun range. Therefore, he believed in the vest the moment he trusted his life with it.
Jesus said that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life (John 3:16). What does it look like to believe in Jesus? The Bible says that the demons believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Matthew 8:29). So what’s the difference between the demons and us? The demons know who Jesus is, but they don’t follow Him. It’s one thing to know, and another thing to trust. But there is a connection between the knowledge and the trust.
Most young Christians who graduate high school and go to college end up walking away from their faith. Last time I checked the statistic was like 70%. The reasons for walking away are usually intellectual. “Haven’t you heard about evolution? Don’t you know science has eliminated the need for God? Why would God allow evil?” Students don’t know the answers to these questions, they feel embarrassed, and they walk away. The lack of knowledge led to a lack of trust, or faith.
If our students could test their faith at the gun range before they go off to college and stare down the barrel, if they could know that the vest stops bullets, maybe less would walk away. I pray that the Church recognizes the great need to train our students in apologetics, and that we act accordingly.