Living where I do, potholes are a given. These are not mere shallow depressions in the roadway; these contend in the annual “Imitation Grand Canyon” competition. I have seen some of these potholes swallow entire circus caravans…including the trucks carrying the Ferris Wheel and the elephants.
I have hit some of these potholes (even at slower speeds) with such jarring effect that each and every joint and bolt (both in the car and in my body) resonated with the jolt. The ubiquity of potholes, particularly during winter months, is one of the reasons why the state highway department displays “Report Potholes” signs along the roadways. This is an effort, I am sure, to corral community cooperation to slay the pothole beasts before they swallow too many circus caravans…or Dodge Caravans.
And…delightfully…you can “report potholes” without any of the guilt or fear of retribution if you were to, say, report one of those semi drivers with those brazen bumper stickers: “If you see me driving badly call 1-800-I-DON’T-CARE!” [I know, you have seen other, more (ahem) “colorful” variations of that bumper sticker, but I try to post a PG blog.]
[As an aside, speaking of roadway signs, I live in a community that has seen fit to spend taxpayer dollars to put up a couple of street signs that say, “Turn off your turn signal.” I suppose this is for fear that we will be perpetually following people who lead us to believe that they are turning left, when in fact they are continuing on straight ahead. And no, those signs are not outside the local Senior Citizens Center.]
Meanwhile…back at the potholes…and the warning signs. I think we’d all agree that helping people avoid potholes, and the accompanying potential for damage, is an inherently good thing. Potholes can seriously affect a vehicle’s well-being, cause thousands of dollars in damage, and perhaps even set up multi-vehicle accidents with the attendant risks to life and limb. In short, the warning is helpful. The warning is not designed to sap joy from our lives. The warning is, in fact, designed to help us know more joy…or, in this case, at least less road trauma.
We are usually appreciative of those kinds of warnings, unless they come at us from another source: the Bible. When warnings come at us from the Bible, our first reaction is often a crouching defensiveness…the sense that someone, somewhere is on a “search and destroy” mission to excise any mirth from our lives and make us into sour-pussed, joyless, freaks. Of course, behind the Bible is the God of the Bible who can be seen (through this lens) as the author of dull and boring.
H.L. Menken, the early 20th Century journalist and wag, spoke thusly (about Puritanism but oft extrapolated to anyone/thing that derives wisdom and caution from biblical admonition): “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”
So it is regularly the case that any warning of any kind that proceeds from a biblical perspective is cast in this same joy-sapping light. Which, to be blunt, is just plain stupid. God’s plan for His people is not a life of misery. And it’s precisely because He cares so much that we find our joy in Him that he puts up warning signs along the way–the biblical equivalent of “Report Potholes.”
Dust off the Ten Commandments for a minute or two and see what’s really happening there. The prelude to the Commandments (Exodus 20:1) is a reminder to the rabble gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai that God had just performed a wondrous rescue mission. And, in the effort to build the nation of Israel, He then, “Reports Potholes.” He says, “Watch out! If you fall into one of these potholes you will not enjoy the life of blessing for which I have created you and to which I have called you.”
Don’t worship false gods; if you do, you are missing the mark and will fall into the pothole of misdirected allegiance that can only leave you empty.
Don’t bandy the name of God about as if it’s a mere exclamation point or (worse still) a profanity. If you do, you will fall into a pothole of deity diminishment that shrinks the majesty of Him and His created order which then fosters a most repressive cynicism.
Don’t forget that you are a finite creature and that you need a rhythm of work and rest in your life. If you don’t take God up on His plan for that rhythmic existence, you will fall into the pothole of self-importance, convinced that the universe cannot function without you. We are all just “penciled in” and God’s work and rest rhythm underscores our finite nature while providing the refreshment our bodies and spirits crave.
Don’t monkey around on your spouse; if you do you will fall into the pothole of “commodity relationships” that miss the fruit God has packed into the laboratory of love He designed–a laboratory where we can learn what it’s like to love at least one person throughout the vagaries of life.
Don’t lie. If you do, you will gut the currency of human relationships and fall into the pothole of a faux world–a world where trust and its attendant intimacy cannot be found because they cannot be given.
You get the points, right? These Commandments are not joy sappers; they are markers of dangerous potholes that will ultimately derail our relationships with God and each other.
And sometimes, carefully, gently, humbly, gingerly, but sincerely, we have to be counter cultural souls, willing to risk the wrath of western society’s relativistic atmospherics and say to our fellow travelers: “Watch out. You are heading for a pothole.” Or, to put it the Apostle Paul’s way, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
That is not license to stampede through someone’s life as a self-appointed “lifestyle posse.” It is the call Christians share to “Report Potholes”–to care for each other in ways that say, “The road you are on is a dangerous one.”
Jesus said that He had come that we might have “life to the full” (“abundant life” in the King’s English). This fullness of life has multiple dimensions but surely one of them is the reporting of “potholes” so that our fellow travelers will not be wrecked from the jarring and jerking.
© All rights reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.