In some Christian circles, a distinction is drawn between application and meddling. When the pastor preaches against the sins of others, that’s application. When he stings your own conscience, that’s meddling. You may have noticed that I do my share of meddling anyway, but I am almost certain to do it tonight (unless you are wise enough to live without an automobile). Tonight I want to talk about your driving habits.
Are you an aggressive driver? Here is how the Philadelphia Inquirer describes them:
Aggressive drivers tend to be easily frustrated and show little concern for fellow motorists. They run stop signs and red lights, speed, tailgate, weave in and out of traffic, pass on the right, make improper and unsafe lane changes, use hand gestures, scream, honk and flash their lights. Some dislike being passed and will speed up to cut off another driver [2/19/98, A4].
Do any of these driving habits sound familiar? Anyone who commutes encounters aggressive drivers every day. You might even be married to one.
“Road rage” is becoming a national problem. Miles driven are up by one third. So is the blood pressure of the average motorist. According to one survey, eighty percent of American drivers say they are angry all or most of the time they are in the car. As a result, more than 200 people were killed last year by angry motorists. Perhaps not surprisingly, “road rage” was used as a legal defense in a recent criminal trial in Montgomery County, although the judge didn’t buy it.
The problem has become so serious that the American Automobile Association (AAA) is trying to do something about it. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Society has released a report on “Aggressive Driving.” Among other things, AAA recommends avoiding eye contact with angry drivers, letting other people pass, laying off your horn and refusing to return uncomplimentary gestures.
That is wise counsel. It also raises a question: how should Christians drive? A friend of mine asked me that question not long after he became a Christian. In the fervor of his new-found faith in Jesus Christ he went out and purchased a decorative fish at his local Christian bookstore and attached it to his trunk. The fish, as you may know, is an ancient symbol of Christianity. A few weeks later, some of his friends asked him to unhook his fish. They said his driving was a poor testimony. If he was going to drive like a pagan, they explained, it would be better not to advertise for Jesus.
So how should Christians drive? First, Christians should drive safely, which includes observing the speed limit. This is something we owe to the governing authorities which have been established by God. He who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Rom. 13:2).
Safe driving is also something we owe to our neighbors. Reckless driving violates the sixth commandment: Thou shalt not kill (Exod. 20:13; KJV). Worldwide, half a million people are killed in automobile accidents every year. People who drive carefully preserve their own lives, the lives of their passengers and the lives of other motorists.
Christians should also drive patiently. The reason this is not easy is because automobiles feed our lust for power. Urbanologist David Engwicht explains what happens to us when we slide behind the wheel:
Metamorphosis takes place as the driver is transformed from homo-sapiens to homo-machine, both hearts of steel united in their drive for efficiency, speed, and power. The driver becomes the driven [Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns: Better Living with Less Traffic, Philadelphia: New Society, 1993].
Cars give the illusion of power. In addition to controlling their own speed, drivers have seat control, sound control and climate control. But speed, comfort and power easily become idols. Driving a car is a way of seeking mastery over time and space. We want to get where we are going sooner rather than later. We don’t want anyone in our way.
These attitudes are signs of idolatry. You can tell by your reaction whenever your mastery over time and space is thwarted. What happens to your blood pressure when you are running late or get stuck in traffic? How do you respond when you get cut off, or when the lanes narrow, or when you have trouble finding a parking spot? You get angry. Of course you do! Anger is the natural response when we are kept from our gods.
The thing to realize when you start beating on your steering wheel in frustration is that you have a spiritual problem. The real problem is not the driver in front of you or the traffic jam on I-95, the real problem is in your heart.
The way you drive is a test of your godliness. You do not cease to be a child of God when you put your key in the ignition. You are not an anonymous motorist, you are a Christian motorist. So be gracious. Let other people go first. Be patient and forgiving towards the sins of other motorists.
Such sanctified driving is especially important for parents. You are teaching your children how to drive every time you get behind the wheel. You may also be teaching them hostility. “What’s that guy’s problem?” said one of my regular passengers last week. It was a rotten thing to say, but it hardly seems fair to blame a child for repeating what he hears from his father!
So I commend the Christian virtue which is most useful for driving: patience. If you have trouble being patient, it might be good to put this paraphrase on your dashboard: I urge you to drive your car worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with other motorists in love (Eph. 4:1-2).
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