17 September 2009

The Seatbelt Law, and Grace

A few days ago, I was driving two of my kids to the pediatrician's office for a check up. While coming up to a stop light, I noticed the car beside me. What immediately caught my attention was the baby, close to my own baby's age, sitting on the lap of the person riding in the front passenger's seat. Immediately I was shot full of adrenaline, and my mouth popped open. "I can't believe it!" I said out loud in my own car. "What are they doing?" I was angry. I was scornful in my heart. I considered saying something to them when we came to a stop. I began looking for a police car in the area, and saying, "Lord, I hope they get pulled over. I hope they get caught."

I looked more carefully at the car. Should I call 911 and follow them? My own baby has a doctor's appointment; I can't do that. I noticed the license plate was different. It said something about a disabled veteran on it. "So they feel entitled!" I began to mutter. "Some people!" I looked into the car more carefully, and counted heads. The baby was the sixth passenger in a five passenger vehicle. I could offer them a car seat, but where would they put it? They were turning left (in the direction of a hospital known for its trauma center), I turned right.

For the next 10 minutes as I drove down the highway, I was talking to God about the situation. I was grumbling at first, but then began to think about some things. I didn't know them, nor did I know their circumstances. But my immediate reaction was to cry for justice. I wanted them to be punished for breaking the law. And they deserved it, right? Regardless of their circumstances, if they had been pulled over by police, they would be found guilty for breaking the law, plain and simple. And what would the outcome be? An expensive ticket. Possible arrests. The car could be impounded. The child could be taken and placed in protective custody. But how horrible if I wished that on them and they were on their way to the hospital to visit a dying relative or some other heart-breaking story! But that baby was in someone's lap in the front seat, wearing no seat belt.

So my mind wondered: what would mercy look like? Mercy would be, well, you get pulled over, but the police gives you permission to go free--to have a second chance. Well that hardly seems fair, but certainly seems much kinder. But would that stop them from doing it again? And then my mind went to the ultimate extreme: what would grace look like? Well, grace would be something like this: they get pulled over, but then I willingly come along and pay the fine, have my own car impounded and my own children taken into custody, and they get to go free--in my 7-passenger van (with a car seat).

Not only would this hypothetical act of grace satisfy the requirements of the law (a fine must be paid, a car impounded, etc.), but it would supply the law-breakers with everything necessary to continue in their circumstances but without continuing to break the law (because they would have my van to ride in).

I was ashamed at my own initial reaction to cry for justice and to be merciless. As I realized my unwillingness (or inability) to offer grace to them, I realized what an amazing God I serve, who offered grace to me. He satisfied the requirements of the Law that I broke when I sinned against Him. He paid the price with His Son's blood, and gives me new life to live in the power of His Spirit. I hope that in the future, when I have an opportunity to offer His grace to others, or to demonstrate it in practical ways, I would be humble enough to do it because of what He did for me.

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