After spending a weekend with only a thin nylon tent protecting me from rain, hail, snow, lightning, and freezing temperatures I drove myself and my wife home from an otherwise pleasant getaway with friends in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. About halfway home driving through California’s Central Valley, we approached the freeway off ramp that leads to the small town of Shafter, where I led my first mission trip to minister among the migrant farmers who populate the fields for much of the year. As my mind began to swim with warming memories of that trip, I was soon jarred back to the present time as the car in front of me began to swerve wildly across our lane and the next. I focused intently on the car as it meandered from one lane to the next. I proclaimed to wife, half-asleep from the journey, that he is surely drunk. He began to decelerate and I found my car quickly gaining on him.
I said to my wife, “We should call the police once we get away from him.” I cautiously crossed two lanes to give myself a buffer of space and began to overtake him, my thought being that if he crashes and we are behind him, we may not avoid a collision. As we were passing the car I looked over to see that he wasn’t visibly drunk, but was texting on a cell phone he held to his side as it was plugged in to a charger. I became enraged, proclaiming how selfish he was in endangering everyone else on the road. It still seemed prudent to pass him, as he was clearly a danger to us. I did so carefully, giving him a wide breadth of space. As he was in the far right lane I was forced to use the right one, committing a faux pas for sure, but done to prevent a greater danger. As we had just cleared him we approached a bridge, and as we passed under the bridge I sank in terror. A patrol car from the Highway Patrol sat on the backside of the bridge pylon, hidden from earlier view. I immediately abandoned my effort to escape the mad texter and slowed my car, but it was too late. I watched in agony in my rearview mirror as the patrol car started to lurch forward, gaining speed on me until he was directly behind me, flashing his lights and commanding me to pull over.
The patrolman approached the window of the car and told me, “I saw you going a bit fast when you were passing that other car.” He paused and added, “on the right,” as if to further accuse my driving habits. Without a chance for explanation, he whisked himself away to his car with my documents, and returned with a completed summons to appear in court. I saw that he marked my speed as 10 miles an hour over the posted limit. I became even more confused, imagining that 10 is not even fast enough to warrant a citation. After signing it I drove away upset at the injustice I perceived against me and the thought of having to pay money I do not really have.
Upon theological reflection, I realized this event to be a perfect picture of the world’s system. A man chose to disregard the well-being of others, denying them the love that Jesus commanded people to have for one another. In fear for my life and the life of my wife, and with little time to make a decision, I took an action that while technically illegal, I believed to be the most adventitious to promote the well-being of my family. I barely exceeded the legal limit of speed, but broke a law nonetheless. As I slowed and allowed the officer to catch up with me, the even more emboldened texter zoomed by, my experience in law enforcement reminding me that when two cars are speeding, the easier one to catch is almost always the one pulled over. The officer found me guilty and offered no chance of defense, other than to appear in court 150 miles from my home in front of a judge, where the officer can easily say that there is no excuse to go even one mile per hour over the limit. And he would be right. I was guilty.
Because of sin, I feel that I was forced into a situation where my own sin was the only way to escape. Even with the benefit of hindsight I am at a loss for what I could have done differently other than stay behind the car and risk collision. But that thought offers no comfort to a man who know he broke the law and will now be punished for it. The world is so corrupted that to survive in it through our own strength we must sin. I sinned because I did not know of another way out and in the moment of decision could not muster the faith to find another option.
The Bible speaks about this in the book of Revelation. Jesus proclaims that a time is coming that in order to participate in the world, to buy or sell anything, one must have “the mark of beast on his head and hands”. This warning is not some attack on bar codes or a prediction of a tattoo of allegiance, but an image familiar to those who know Scripture. Believers in the Old Testament were commanded to have the Law of God attached to their heads and their hands, the symbolic value being that we must think as God wants us to think with our head, and do as God wants us to do with our hands. We now live in a time where it is increasingly easier live life thinking and doing as the world does, guided along by the power of darkness, than to think and act as God would have us. And it is only going to get worse.
Given another example, when a HR manager does not check out the validity of claims on employment applications because of their own sloth and the insurmountable workload thrust upon them by a company who abuses its workers for the sake of profit, the honest man has little chance against those who lie, thus he is forced to lie or starve. If he is righteous he knows he will be rewarded by God in the end, but he must endure the terrible trials on earth now, being forced to choose between earthly success or failure.
Like a car driving recklessly and threatening to harm your family, the world will always make it easier to sin than to be righteous. Jesus encourages us to remain faithful to God no matter how hard it is to do so because in the end we are pleasing to He who created us. How do we know we be blessed in the end? Faith.
I just wish Jesus would go to traffic court with me as my advocate.