The Fool in the Car

Ecclesiastes 7:9

What is it about an automobile that makes ordinary, reasonable people into morons? I could be walking down the street, holding doors for people and smiling, but put me behind the wheel of my car and, even though I’m not in any real hurry to get anywhere, I find irritation all around me.

Just yesterday, I was in a parking lot. Having identified a beautiful parking spot–it was in the shade in the heat of the afternoon–I prepared myself to wheel into it. But then this person was backing out of a nearby spot. She moved so slowly, her wheels barely turned so she had to back far out into the lane to make an exit. It turned out, though, that she wasn’t exiting. She was moving over from one perfectly good spot into another perfectly good spot. Finally, as I sat there grumbling, she eased to a stop, allowing me to grab my space quickly.

I should have had this verse in my mouth:

Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry,
for anger abides in the heart of fools.

Ecclesiastes 7:9

A Time for Every Irritation

Back in Ecclesiastes 3, we read about the “time for every season under heaven.” You might remember “a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together. I’d like to propose another list, a list of annoyances under heaven.

Annoyed by the old, annoyed by the young.
Annoyed by the strangers and who I’m among.
Annoyed by the fast, annoyed by the slow.
Annoyed by the high, annoyed by the low.
Annoyed by the rich, annoyed by the poor.
Annoyed by myself, but you even more.

What kind of a hit could the Byrds have made with that?

But honestly, what sort of benefit do we ever get from being angry? I have a few things from my past that have truly angered me and that stayed with me, things far more significant than that slow driver in the parking lot. One grudge I cherished for probably ten years, realizing that the person who had wronged me had long ago forgotten my existence. That anger did me absolutely zero good ever, from day one until the day that I determined to put it aside.

It’s not just me that feels this way, and it didn’t require the invention of the automobile for it to become a problem. James took up the matter in the New Testament:

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

James 1:19-20

Getting in Tune

Different people are inclined to anger in different ways. I’m not an explosive person. Perhaps you are. I do find a hundred little things to bother me. Perhaps you’re more patient with the small stuff. I’m not sure that this matters all that greatly.

Anger, in whatever form, is a non-productive emotion in almost every situation. Think about it. If Jesus could not be righteously angry when a bunch of buffoons arrested Him and started the path that led to Calvary, then what right do I have to anger? If Jesus could say, “Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing,” then how can I hold a grudge against someone? Anger isn’t what we have toward fools. It’s what makes us fools.

Today, I’m going to strive to avoid anger–in the car and beyond.

Wrong Way but Making Good Time

On a dark night, you find yourself heading west on an empty highway. No other cars impede your pace, while only a few lights, far off from the edge of the road, pierce through the darkness. You’re making good time.

The problem is that you’re going the wrong way. The road is Interstate-80, which stretches from New York City to San Francisco. You’re far from either of those cities, finding yourself in Wyoming moving 80 miles an hour (the Interstate speed limit there). Your destination is Cheyenne.

There’s just one issue. You’re heading west and just passed Laramie. On the off chance that you do not have Wyoming geography firmly implanted in your mind, let me note that Laramie is about 50 miles west of Cheyenne. You’re now making good time in the wrong direction.

There are exits available, small, no-facilities exits that lead to a county road but would allow you to turn around. But you keep going. It’s now less than 50 miles to Elk Mountain, Wyoming. Beautiful Elk Mountain, which boasts little in the way of either mountains or elk, might be a place to turn around. Farther ahead, you’ll find Point of Rocks, Rock Springs, and the marvelously named Little America. You could turn around at any of these places. Sure, it’ll be morning by the time you get there and noon you hit Cheyenne. Yes, you’ll have to cover this same stretch of road again, but you could wait to turn around.

Who would do that on a roadtrip? When you know you’re going the wrong way, you don’t keep going do you? Every mile you drive in the wrong direction will wind up being an extra two miles you have to cover. Anybody with any sense, the moment they know they’ve overshot their destination, will find the first exit and reverse course.

Why is it that when we have the good sense to handle a driving mistake in this manner, we don’t have the sense to correct other errors immediately. Previously I noted that the thing that has been bothering me lately is out-of-control eating. At present, I don’t like where I am, and I’m driving in the wrong direction. So do I immediately find an exit and turn around? No. Instead, I rationalize that Monday will be a good time to make a new start. Or maybe after Easter. Or maybe when the semester is over. That will let me really establish some new habits.

You can plug in your sin–and let’s be clear that gluttony is a sin–and probably convince yourself that you need to repent . . . eventually.

The reality is that delayed repentance is not just inefficient, like driving farther in the wrong direction. It is actually no repentance at all. When Peter and John revealed the gospel to a crowd in Acts 3, they didn’t suggest repentance next week or next year. They directed the people to repent in the present tense, now.

Therefore repent and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped out, that seasons of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send Jesus, who has been appointed for you as the Messiah. –Acts 3:19-20

An exit comes into view, an off ramp to the right and an on-ramp to the left. You can’t refill your coffee here, but you can turn around. You tap the brakes and switch on the turn signal.