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.
February 5th, 2014 at 12:20 pm
Right on, Pastor! Thanks!
February 9th, 2014 at 12:00 am
Howard, since I read your post on potholes, I’ve done some serious obsessing over the potholes in my life—spiritual and otherwise. I’ve come to realize that, in some ways, potholes in road surfaces are quite unlike the spiritual potholes that lie in wait for us. As you point out, both require attention. Yet, ‘real’ potholes are different than ‘spiritual’ potholes in at least three ways: by their immediacy, unavoidability and (seemingly) ease-of-repair.
By immediacy I mean that when your Caravan (circus-type or otherwise) strikes a pothole, then ‘bang’—the jarring thud of tires striking the bottom of that earthy pit, the rebound of your vehicle’s shock absorbers, the groaning of your car’s bolts and welds and the jerking of your protesting steering wheel—all tell you right away that something isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. Something’s gone wrong. You know it right away. But when we strike a pothole in our spiritual lives, it sometimes takes a while for us to realize what happened. Often, we don’t become aware that something is not the way it’s supposed to be until much later. For example, when I’m involved in a project the deadline for which is fast approaching, how many Sabbaths do I fail to keep because I use that day to ‘get caught up’ on my work or because I worked so long into Saturday night that I was just too tired to get up in time for worship service? It may take a few ‘misses’ before I know that something is out of balance in my life–that I’ve hit a spiritual pothole.
I’m almost certain that there’s a master plan for creating potholes in exactly the places where the wheels of your vehicle have to go. Potholes are spaced in such a way that you just have to hit them. They’re unavoidable. Yet, most of our spiritual potholes are avoidable. Avoiding spiritual potholes demands that you pay close attention and that you are constantly on guard. But, with care, you can avoid them. Using the Lord’s name in vain, murdering or stealing…well, those are potholes that should be easy to avoid. Not committing adultery…maybe more difficult, but certainly avoidable.
‘Real’ potholes can be easily repaired—just fill them up with some extra asphalt or concrete. A little patching up—problem solved! Spiritual potholes, on the other hand, are often not so easily repaired. For example, we may all be aware that we should have no other gods but the One true God. He is the only One worthy of our worship. Yet how often do we find ourselves worshipping at the feet of idols…esteeming the creation above the Creator…stealing the time and energy which belonged to the Lord and allotting them instead to improving our résumés…. focusing on what we have and can get more of instead of what we can give and do without? Unlike the quick, fill-and-patch method of taking care of real potholes, these spiritual potholes are not easy to fix. They demand attention. If we’re not very careful, these spiritual potholes, like the real potholes in our roads, will eventually damage whatever (and whoever) falls into them.
February 10th, 2014 at 9:50 am
Thanx, John, for your thoughtful response. Every analogy breaks down eventually; I appreciate you pointing to the differences between these two types of “road hazards.”