Sunday, December 19, 2010

Caught on Tape

A few months ago I received a letter in the mail from the City of Wilmington. When I opened it up, there was a picture of a car with my license plate going through a red light and a fine for $110.

My first reaction was, "I didn't do it." I thought this even as I looked at the picture of my car and the red light above it. It seemed so unfair, so legalistic. I don't run red least not deliberately. I do run yellows from time to time, though. If they turn red as I'm going under them, I figure, I'm still in the clear. I was innocent, even though the evidence said otherwise.

How do you contest something when you are "caught on tape?" What am I going to say? "It wasn't me." It was. " The light wasn't red." It was. I had committed an infraction, and now I was going to have to pay. I was pissed. I had no excuse.

This whole scenario got me thinking about my moral life, and how easy it is in our culture to rationalize our sin. How many yellow lights have I skirted through? Yellow lights are meant to be a warning; there's got to be a reason the traffic signals don't go straight from green to red. If you're smart, you slow down to a stop before the light turns red. If you're ballsy, you take your chances. Most of the time, nobody notices. Every now and then you get nailed.

Sometimes you're even at those intersections where there is nobody around for miles and you're just sitting at a red light and you're like "why can't I just go?" You are obeying the law, but there are no other cars around to be in danger of hitting. You can rationalize the law, saying that since there's no one around, that red light is not for you. The law suddenly seems stupid. You go through. If there's a camera, it will take your picture, and you will get a fine and have to pay. If there's no camera, then no harm no foul, right?

Maybe yellow lights are like occasions of sin, and red lights are like the real deal, the sin itself. You can run a yellow and be ok, but its better to stop, just to be on the safe side. The law is there to protect citizens, you and me both, from people who might run red lights and put themselves and other people in danger. I want everyone to obey the rules of the road, for my own protection as well as everybody else's.

But we're not playing by God's rules in today's society. Everybody is deciding when to stop and when to go on their own terms and as a result souls are perishing and nothing feels safe and I'm afraid to drive on this proverbial road. Society is descending into morally relativistic chaos because nobody thinks God is watching. But he is.

In the eyes of God everything we do is on tape; there is nothing that escapes God's notice, even when we think otherwise. Running a red light may seem like an innocent enough thing. But what if you do it and you hit another car and kill the people inside? Are you going to say you're not to blame?

When I die, God is going to roll the tape of all the dirty stuff I've done, and all the good I haven't done, and its going to be a Shame Fest, and all the saints will be watching and wailing for me and my fate and it will be 10,000 times worse than running any red light and there won't be any amount of money in the world that I can pay God back for it all. To say, "I didn't do it," would only add insult to injury. Because I've done it all, and its all on tape.


Rebecca said...

This is so sad! Isn't the beauty of our tradition the belief that God doesn't keep the tape?! I'm pretty positive that the God of Jesus isn't about shame or tallying up....

Rob said...

I wrestled with this. Our tradition also comes with the belief in purgatory. I don't think that Jesus shames us, but we have to know what we're being saved from, as if God shows us our life lived and how inadequate and helpless we are in that divine light to hide anything. Jesus saves us from the pit of destruction. But I get hung up on the idea of purgatory...the idea that we don't get off completely scot-free, that our actions in this life have consequences in the next, and don't know how to account for it. I don't know. If it means anything my wife didn't like the last part of this post either.