Diagnosing Culture Through Driving
Today, as I was driving it hit me that I could diagnose some of the things I find problematic about American culture just by watching other people drive their cars on the road. So that’s exactly what I’m going to attempt to do.
Problem #1: When We Don’t Feel Subject To Rules
Does anybody still believe in the speed limit? There are those rare few, but it seems most people go whatever speed they feel is most comfortable for them. Just listen to the next conversation you hear about speed limits. Eventually, I’ll wager you’ll hear someone say something like:
I only go 7-8 miles per hour over the speed limit.
To which someone else will reply:
Well, I only go 5 miles per hour over the speed limit.
What both of these people are, in effect, saying is, “I only arbitrarily break the law by so much because I am comfortable with that arbitrary line I’ve set.”
In effect, we tend to not actually feel governed by the rules that very clearly exist all around us. The Bible does not think highly of this mentality. Some verses that pop into my mind are verses such as Romans 13:1-2:
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Also, Matthew 22:21:
“Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
One last exhibit in 1 Corinthians 11:3:
But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
The overwhelming points here being; everyone answers to somebody. And if that authority is not contrary to God’s authority, but rather is in line with God’s authority and promotes a civilized, ordered society as God intended it then we are subject to it. Wives submit to husbands. Husbands submit to Christ. Both submit to governing bodies that wield authority that emulates God’s authority. Even Christ himself submits to a head.
So why are people so fascinated with speeding? There’s a second part of that conversation that I hear a lot, which I think helps answer this question. You may hear someone say something like this:
I only go 5 miles over because no cop is going to pull you over for going that speed limit. Most cops go that speed!
This leads us to problem #2…
Problem #2: When We Don’t Respect Authority, But Only Fear Punishment.
So often, we are only doing things because we want to avoid the negative consequences. Most people don’t go 15 over the speed limit because it might hurt them financially, or because they realize that it’s more efficient to go 8 over and not get pulled over so the economics of going 15 over just doesn’t add up.
Regardless, this is a pretty basic point. People aren’t really concerned about authority until it is going to effect them in a negative manner. This is a wildly arrogant thought. 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 says:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done. At every point you have proved yourselves to be innocent in this matter.
Godly sorrow is almost desperate to make sure that no wrongdoing can be attached to its name. See the difference? It’s not just that we want to make sure nothing bad happens. We’re actually concerned that no injustice might be present around us! So the notion that somehow we only pay attention to rules and regulations when there’s potential for us to pay a price is not how a society ought to operate.
I often think about how Jared Wilson, a pastor, spoke at the Ready Conference in Kansas City in January about how one of the markers and assurances for a Christian is that:
Christians hate sin more than they hate the consequences of sin.
This is an extremely profound insight because to hate sin means that we’ve identified that there is a God who is grieved by sin. (Isaiah 63:10) And when I say grieved, I don’t mean that it brings a giant, hurtful tear to his eye. Yes, he may be saddened by our sin. But what I mean is that God has a grievance against your sin. Sin is detestable. So to detest sin for what it is rather than just detest those rascally, unfortunate consequences of sin is one assurance that we’ve properly identified Jesus Christ, and through him God who hates sin. (Psalm 11:5)
So stop fearing the punishment of sin and start hating sin itself for the enemy that it intrinsically is. Besides, who is to say that just because cops or other governing figures do something it means that it is right? If we’re not careful we’ll follow those leaders right into the abyss. Take, for example, what is said in Ezekiel 44:10-12:
The Levites who went far from me when Israel went astray and who wandered from me after their idols must bear the consequences of their sin. They may serve in my sanctuary, having charge of the gates of the temple and serving in it; they may slaughter the burnt offerings and sacrifices for the people and stand before the people and serve them. But because they served them in the presence of their idols and made the people of Israel fall into sin, therefore I have sworn with uplifted hand that they must bear the consequences of their sin, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Note that, while the Israelites are culpable for their own sin in different passages, the Lord is not friendly towards the Levites who worshipped their idols and caused the people of Israel to fall into sin.
Just because your leaders are doing something does not mean that thing reflects God.
I’ll actually go so far as to say that it’s incredibly hypocritical of our society to ask our leaders to act in a way that we’re not willing to act! After all, where do we think leaders get trained? They get trained in homes. They get trained in schools. Do you think these leaders that we look down our noses at just popped up overnight? No, these moral failings that seem to be everywhere now should not surprise us in the least.
And, yes, I know that you know going 5 over the speed limit is wrong. I know it because I see those taillights go on as people tap their brakes when they pass a patrol car on the road. I know that you do it, because I use to be that person and I did it!
Let’s stop pretending we don’t think we’re doing something wrong. I haven’t driven on an Interstate in about 6 months while being concerned about being pulled over. True story! I don’t even think about it anymore. Want to know why? Because there’s nothing to fear from an authority that sees me abiding within the normative operations it has asked of me.
Editor’s note: As I edit this, I’m going to maintain my above paragraph as generally true. But in light of things like police shootings that can rightly trouble people in a society, I want to recognize that we live in a fallen reality with fallen institutions. So I hope you’ll allow me the point I’m making, while also realizing I fully empathize with those who feel the injustice of fallen, man-made institutions that have legitimately failed people.
So do you look at God today and see a God that causes you to tremble before him? Do you have this constant worry that God is displeased with you? Maybe that has less to do with the true character of God than it does with the fact that somewhere, deep down in your soul, you know that seemingly innocent thing you’re doing is what God calls sin.
But anyways, on to problem 3. Behind this door we have…
Problem #3: When We Are Rushing Nowhere
This truth reveals itself in 3 prominent driving habits.
One, you see it in the person who, when they see the yellow light, pushes down on the accelerator instead of the brake. Yellow lights are a sign that things should be coming to a halt, and yet we too often treat this as a challenge in which we exert a Herculean effort to not get stuck with the average joe who doesn’t have the temerity to get through the intersection.
In effect, yellow lights have become a sign that we should “speed up” when we all know they mean “slow down.” We all are naturally inclined to hate the inconvenience of sitting at a light.
Surely we’ve all seen that car behind us going through a yellow turn signal and thought, “I thought I was pushing it!” There seems to be no bounds to how far people will push the limits of what is acceptable if there seems to be an option of continuing their momentum.
Secondly, most people don’t make full stops at stop signs. We’ve all done that rolling stop at an intersection because we don’t see anyone else around. Stop signs mean “Come to a complete stop, evaluate the situation, and then make your next driving move.”
We all know this. But we generally tend to ignore it. Why? Because why do I need to actually stop when I clearly know that stopping is a waste of my time? Stopping is a nuisance. We have enough knowledge to decide not to stop, right? Surely we have enough control over the situation that the knowledge we have doesn’t really apply to us. Whether we think our circumstances don’t call for it, we think we’re a superior driver and those regulations are for some other schmuck, or whatever else it may be, we just decide to ignore and suppress the knowledge of what is right for the sake of what is convenient.
Thirdly, people who zoom ahead and around cars that might be a bit slow or going the speed limit. You’re tired of that car ahead of you, you see a small opening, and you gun it around them. Or you know that the right lane is a turn only lane in 200 feet, but you still make your move knowing that you can zip around them just in time to get back over.
Or how about those folks who know that the lane on the Interstate is merging and yet they just cut up to the front of the line? Don’t. Even. Get. Me. Started.
When we do these things, all we’re doing is trying to get ahead of the next guy. If they’re slower than we are, then they don’t deserve to be ahead of us, right? So, see ya later, gator! The notion that we might be patient never crosses our mind. And yet, how many times do we see that person zip around us only for us to catch them at the next stop sign, stop light, etc.? Their impatient, hare-like driving only makes them more prone to danger and seems to yield no significant advantage over the creeping tortoise who is contentedly plodding his way to a destination.
The Bible doesn’t seem to have much positive to say about this unyielding, aggressive, and impatient form of driving that never knows how to contentedly sit and wait before moving. Our drivers act as if they must be in high-flying motion or else they will be falling short of some driving ideal to be aspired to.
Now to be clear, the Bible obviously doesn’t say anything specifically about driving. There’s no specific text on yellow lights, for example. There are, however, texts that deal with things like patience, self-control, and wisdom. Here’s some examples. Galatians 5:22-23 says:
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.
Patience is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s supernatural. It’s actually quite human to try to speed through a yellow light. But to be willing to be patient enough to wait for that next green is actually an oddity. To willingly slow down and wait isn’t something the world really understands.
Patience is realizing that the car in front of you is not going that slow and zipping around them won’t really make a difference and so why become a driver who moves so aggressively to gain very little, if anything? Is that one extra car length that important to you? If it is, I hope you’re pregnant and in labor or something like that because that should be a drastic situation for it to be that critical to your life!
Here’s another verse in James 3:17 that says:
But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.
Submissive is an odd word. But submissiveness is exactly what you’re practicing when you let a yellow light slow you down rather than actively striving to avoid its restraints. Submissiveness is exactly what you’re doing when you’re willing to submit to that stop sign at 11PM when you know nobody else is on the road.
So, especially us Christians, do we want to practice submissiveness? You should, since it’s part of having wisdom present in your life! So if you want to be wise, you should desire to be a submissive person. Therefore, I present to you Exhibit A that will give you a chance to practice this trait on almost a daily basis.
When you slow down at that yellow light, it is an act of faithfulness if you do it for the Lord. You’re communicating that you believe there is an authority higher than yourself. Conversely, you can communicate to the whole world that there’s no authority higher than yourself when you refuse to submit to those things. I sure hope you don’t have a fish bumper sticker on your car as you refuse to yield to authority.
You can tell more about a person’s real worldview by how they handle a stop sign or yellow light than you can by the bumper sticker on the back of their car.
So what about you? Are regulations only helpful guidelines for those too dumb or helpless to go without them? For you, oh enlightened one, do they feel more like a nostalgic reminder of who we used to be and now no longer need to be because we’ve progressed to a place where rules only restrict our higher functioning minds?
Why won’t we submit? God would ask you to respect the authorities given over you — assuming that authority is not asking you to violate the law of Christ — and, in so doing, you show how much you honor God who is the ultimate authority. How likely do you think it is that you actually yield and submit to God, whom you have not seen, when you refuse to yield and submit to governmental and civic authorities, which you have seen?
Do we really think our proud hearts will yield to God, who asks for us to love him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength when we can’t even do that for a simple stop sign? Now, perhaps you love God. Perhaps you even love him well. But I’d also argue that by learning to think about driving in a Godly manner, you can love him even better than you currently do!
So instead of running through that yellow light and maybe saving a minute. Instead of rolling through that stop sign and maybe saving a few seconds. Instead of zipping to and fro for the sake of a car length, we should realize that it’s not really getting us anywhere. It has not done anything to substantially differentiate your life from those driving around you. You’re striving as quickly as you can and it is for literally nothing.
And while we’re talking about people rushing, let’s hit on one final fact that I find really, really disturbing…
Problem #4: When We Forget How To Travel Together
I most see this embodied in how awful — and I mean, genuinely awful — people are at going on caravans together. Have you ever been following that car that was going 7-8 over and they got a bit ahead of you and they ended up going through on a light turning yellow and now you’re split up from them?
How daunting is this? You were following that person! They had the directions! Now what are we supposed to do? You’re scrambling! You’re in a panic!
This feeling of suddenly being alone is terrible. We’re not meant to do things alone as a people. God made us to walk together. I’m not going to quote all the one another verses in the Bible, but I will just bring to mind Philippians 2:4, which says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Slow down and lead a caravan.
Or how about people who just take a car and say, “We’ll see y’all there later!” I used to travel a lot for ultimate tournaments and we’d hurry on our ways to see who could get there first and get beds. That seemed so important.
But you know what might have been more life-giving than having the bed? That joy that came when you’d stop at gas stations along the way, refuel, and laugh with one another. Those are moments I remember. I can’t tell you which tournaments I got a bed or not, but I remember stopping along the way with those I loved and pursued a craft with.
So why won’t we drive together? I’m tired of being in a caravan and being forced to choose between breaking a conviction — yes, I’m convicted — that going the speed limit, or at least attempting to go it, is right and good or whether I should keep up with the person in front who is going 6 miles over.
Why do I need to choose this? Call me the weaker brother, if you want — although, I’d gently instruct anyone on this point if they would like to hear my conviction. Cater to those who you are called to lead, to work with, and to run the race with.
You can train yourself to do this with the simple act of how you caravan with other cars!
Husbands or boyfriends, you’re going to have to realize that a relationship with a woman means that two people who walk at different paces are also called to walk in stride. That means you need to be able to have your mind off yourself and caring enough about another person to gently, lovingly look at their stride and match it. Do you really think you’re as good at this as you could be if, when you drive, you don’t give a second consideration for the pace of another traveler?
Pastors, do you think that you’re glorifying God and caring for students and parents as well as you could when you’re tearing down the road leaving said parents and students — who are volunteering their time — to go with you to a conference behind you?
Slow down. Travel at a pace that allows you to go with others, and I promise you that you’ll find it supremely satisfying versus going your normal, self-absorbed way.
Slow down. That actually leads me well into my final point…
An Oddity: One Good Thing About Drivers
Yes, there is something I find very encouraging about people when they’re driving!
You’ll see it regularly, in fact. When traffic has completely stopped or is crawling, people suddenly become very polite. This is odd, if you really think about it. That person who runs the yellow lights, who competitively tries to be first through stop signs, and who ditches those in their caravans suddenly becomes very considerate when they slow down and look around.
They let that person sneak in that right turn from the gas station they’re coming out of. They stop a bit farther behind the car in front of them so that person can make that left turn that’s so bothersome to make. They make sure that semi trailer can get over because we’re sure it must be difficult to be caught up in this unexpected jam in such a vehicle.
For some reason when we humans slow down, something better than our default patterns starts to emerge. Something comes out that seems to be almost completely absent while we are zipping around in our self-absorbed steel contraptions.
So what’s the point? It’s what I’ve already said multiple times.
Slow down on the road, yes. But more generally, slow down in life. God speaks and tells us to kneel and content ourselves so that he can reveal himself. Some passages that point to his truth are Exodus 14:14:
The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
You see it, right? Being still is a key element to centering ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we physically need to stay in place all day long, although it might be beneficial to practice phsyical stillness as part of our daily routine. I really love the Newsboys song “Be Still” for many lines, but one of them is:
We’ve been running without a direction. We’re afraid to get there late. What we need is strength just to kneel down and wait.
So I think we should desire to live in a spirit of stillness. This spirit of stillness is a spirit that is expectant. It is a spirit that is ready to see the Lord. 1 Samuel 12:16 says this:
“Now then, stand still and see this great thing the LORD is about to do before your eyes!
Do you desire to see the Lord, but feel like you don’t see the Lord? Well, perhaps one of the problems in your heart is that you don’t have a still heart. An expectant heart. Maybe the problem is not that God isn’t moving, but that you, in fact, are just moving too quickly to behold him. Because I promise to you that he is moving.
So I encourage all of us, especially Christians, to slow down. But even to non-believers who have made it this far in this longer than expected post, I challenge you to slow down. Perhaps even open up the Scriptures I have referenced and see if God will show up. Still your mind and expect to encounter God. I can’t predict how God will move, but I do have a certain confidence you’ll be shocked at what you find when you sit, wait, and look for God to move in your own stillness.
And, yes, I think that we can all start to drive in a way that trains us to learn to be a bit more still as creatures. We can learn to be creatures who understand our limitations, submit to authority, and patiently tread down the path.
This will pay dividends in everything we do. When we desire to shirk off the shackles of a work situation that seems to be so slow in paying off, maybe we can slow down and enjoy the twists and curves towards that promotion.
When we get into that new relationship, remember that it will, Lord willing, be a marathon and not a sprint. So while you may be as eager as a puppy to see where it can go, breathe. Enjoy individual moments and realize that a pace that seems slow might be breathtakingly spectacular if you realize all those little moments of joy are big, flashing signs on the road that point towards God and will give you a greater joy in him when you see him as the source of the joy you’re feeling as you think about that girl or that boy you like.
For me personally, I pray that I will be a still creature and, again, I pray that the Lord teaches me to learn to drive in a way that helps me remember that I am a creature that needs to be still in order to be an expectant creature who sees him clearly.
So if you see me and I’m not living up to this, please, I welcome help remembering to slow down at the yellows. To stop fully at the stop signs. To be content to be in the right lane while a semi passes me and delight in the Lord’s statutes as I content myself in being one who goes the speed limit.
I’m eager to hear how your stilled and expectant heart can find greater joy in the sovereign Lord of this little orb we call Earth and that great expanse we call the universe!