I was reminded recently of a story that could easily have become a terrible tragedy, but instead ended with a peaceful and unexpected miracle.
The Toronto Star newspaper reported that Mr. James Stanson, aged 43, drove from the east coast of Canada in a car loaded with guns and ammunition, intending to kill as many people in the city of Toronto as he could.[1. As reported in the Toronto Star newspaper (Toronto, Canada) on 24 June 2004.] But a last-minute encounter with a woman and her dogs in a lake-front park convinced him that Torontonians are nice. He later told police that he was bent on a murderous rampage.
The man’s aunt told reporters that she believed her nephew was in Toronto seeking medical help for a heart condition. A blood vessel in his heart was expanding rapidly and required surgery. She said that, “He was a walking time bomb”.
Mr Stanson was charged with eight weapons-related offences after he surrendered himself to police. He had a loaded gun in his pocket and a car crammed with weapons, including: a 12-gauge shotgun, a bolt action rifle with a telescopic lens, a 9-mm semi-automatic, a machete, a throwing knife, a camouflage ski mask, black leather gloves, and 6,296 rounds of ammunition —all purchased legally. The man had intended to start firing in the park on a sunny summer afternoon.
By chance, he encountered a woman walking her two dogs. “One of the dogs approached him and it was playful and they got into a bit of a game of tug-of-war”, Det.-Sgt. Bernadette Button said.
“He decided that the people in Toronto were nice and he didn’t want to continue with his operational plan.” After visiting the park, the man, who police described as mentally ill, drove around the city looking for a police officer.
Police said they have a dog to thank.
What I find most interesting about this story is that the man interpreted the dog’s behaviour as revealing that the people of Toronto were “nice”. Isn’t niceness a personality characteristic? So, the inner attitudes of a whole city of diverse people were portrayed in the outward behaviour of a single dog.
What if a person had encountered Mr. Stanson? How would a person have reacted to this brooding man sitting on a park bench? Would he or she have said, “Hello” or “G’day”, and perhaps invited him to join a game of pick-up footy? How would you or I have responded to this mentally ill man?
What if a Christian had encountered Mr. Stanson? Would the grace and mercy of Jesus have shone through our behaviour towards him?
Isn’t it amazing how the unconditional warmth, friendliness, and playfulness of a dog could thwart a murderous rampage? The dog was being true to its heart by behaving how it felt. When, by faith, we allow the Holy Spirit to transforms us, our heart is changed (Ezek 36:26; cf. Gen 6:5-6) and so too our behaviour (Mt 5:16).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22–23)
Imagine the impact that would result if the people of God were brave enough to live the grace of God boldly in this chaotic and despairing world. Perhaps we can learn much from this dog’s example.
What can you do, right now, to make sure that, right now, you are ready and willing to be gracious towards those around you?