I recently saw a photograph in a newspaper that made me wince. It was a head-and-shoulders shot of a man being sprayed in the face—at close range—with pepper spray. The weapon was the standard-issue cayenne pepper spray that is carried by every member of every local law enforcement agency in our area. It was obviously an unpleasant experience, but believe it or not, the “victim” actually wanted to be sprayed in the face with high-potency cayenne pepper spray.
What could make someone WANT to be assaulted with pepper spray? The event was a rite of passage for 12 recruits about to finish a grueling, twenty-week course in basic police work. While it may seem like a cruel form of initiation, it actually served a very valid purpose for these future officers of the law—for before they would be permitted to carry pepper-spray, they were required to personally experience its effects. It was one unpleasant but necessary step toward gaining the right to wear the badge. Fortunately, the same training policy is not applied to the officer’s sidearm.
This was a day that the recruits had been dreading for weeks. More than once, their training officers had reminded them that this day would come, and that the trainers would have the opportunity for payback as they administered the hot, painful spray to the recruits. After being sprayed, recruits ran for nearby water hoses and electric fans. After 30 minutes or so, most of the major effects of the spray had passed, and the recruits were beyond the last major hurdle to being full-fledged police officers.
All this makes me wonder what thoughts will pass through the minds of these new officers the first time that they actually have to use pepper spray to subdue someone. Will they pause for just a moment to consider whether the situation calls for such measures? Probably not. They know exactly what the spray’s effect will be, and they know for sure that it’s effects will not be permanent or life-threatening. They will understand the effects in a way that only someone who has experienced a shot of pepper spray can.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in life is that it’s difficult, sometimes nearly impossible, to help someone through a tragic life experience that you have never gone through yourself. Only a parent who has experienced the unexpected loss of a child can really understand the knot that appears in the stomach of a parent when the news is delivered. Only someone who has experienced drug or alcohol withdrawal can truly come alongside another who is going through that same gut-wrenching, painful experience. Those who have never “been there” can certainly extend compassion, but their support will always be limited by their lack of personal experience. That is why the best drug rehabilitation clinics are staffed by former addicts, the best grief counselors have lost loved ones closest to them, and the best marriage counselors have been successfully married for several years.
Jesus illustrates this principle for us in the very fact that He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:7). Jesus knows and understands the trials of life that you and I face daily, because He experienced the very same things:
“Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17,18)
Jesus was both fully God and fully Man. Jesus probably had “morning breath.” Jesus went through all of the hormonal struggles that go with to puberty. Jesus may have even had pimples. When He didn’t bathe, he became malodorous. He had all of the instincts and drives of any other man, and faced every temptation—yes, even sexual temptation—that you and I face. He came through those trials and temptations without sin, and is now uniquely equipped to “come to the aid of those who are tempted.” There’s nothing that you’re going to face today—not even death—that Jesus can’t bring you through, if your heart belongs to Him.
Compared to what Jesus experienced on the Cross, that pepper spray is pretty tame.