Virtual Voices

Assistance à personne en danger

Faith & Inspiration

My brother Marc just got back from two weeks in Israel that he said were the most intense of his life. He was the lone American on a tour bus of French nationals, whose guide was an erudite and flamingly liberal Belgian priest named Michel. Marc was constantly running interference for non-supernaturalist interpretations of every nook and cranny from Mount Nebo to Mount Sinai.

I took the occasion of this telephone debriefing to commend Marc on a quality he has in abundance that his sister has not so much of. I told him that boldness is his best trait. For as long as Marc has been a Christian (about 35 years) I have never known him to hold back about Christ, whether his captive audience is an Eritrean taxi driver on route to the airport or our own resistant relations. I reminded Marc, by way of encouragement, of the Apostle Paul's own desire for more of that spiritual commodity:

"[Pray] . . . also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel . . . that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak" (Ephesians 6:18-20).

This was the reply of my kid brother, who lived as a missionary in France for nearly three decades and now pummels Canadian "snow birds," expat Haitians, and a sizable French community on "Radio Floride": "Well, it's all about the law of non-assistance à personne en danger."

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Ah, yes. French penal code Article 233-6:

"Quiconque pouvant empêcher par son action immédiate, sans risque pour lui ou pour les tiers, soit un crime, soit un délit contre l'intégrité corporelle de la personne s'abstient, volontairement de le faire, est puni de cinq ans d'emprisonnement et de 75,000 euros d'amende."

That is, in France, one is not allowed to walk by a person in danger when it is within his or her ability to help. The law applies where the following three conditions are met: (1) The person has knowledge of the danger; (2) he or she is in a position to act; and (3) the action of assistance does not present a danger for the person or others.

(Historically, France did not have such a law until after WWII, when the government enacted it in disgust over the passivity of French citizenry toward German victims of the Resistance. Besides the nation of France, Germany, Andorra, and Quebec also have such statutes on their books. The United States and Canada do not, except where there exists a prior obligation, as in the case of medical assistance or parental duties.)

I had not thought of my gospel-sharing duty in those stark terms in quite some time. One forgets that one is surrounded with people in imminent danger, people about whom Jonathan Edwards famously said: "Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will be bear their weight, and these places are not seen" ("Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," sermon preached on July 8, 1741).

To render "assistance à personne en danger" is nothing original to France. The Lord has said it all along:

"So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 33:7-8).

I remember a girl from one of the Carolinas who studied with me back in seminary days. She was unique among our pedantic club in that she was always talking excitedly about Jesus. A bit defensively, I told her that I tend to bide my time for an auspicious opportunity. Unimpressed, she replied, "I may have lots of faults, but shutin' up ain't one of them." You go girl.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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