South Africa has some of the worst road accident statistics in the world. With approximately 17 000 people (and about 3000 of those being children) dying annually on our roads in South Africa,1 not to mention the thousands injured and the countless number of families impacted by injuries and deaths of loved ones; we clearly have a massive problem in our country when it comes to reckless driving.
As people who have been redeemed and made new by accepting Christ’s atonement for our sins, we should be living lives which show this change of heart. But does this go as far as to how we drive? Are you and I driving like the rest of the world – and does it even matter?
God has called us to do two things with every moment of our lives: 1) love God, and 2) love our neighbour.
And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
As a Christian, these two things should permeate ALL aspects of our lives, including how we drive.
How do I best love and obey God when I’m on the road? Surely it’s by obeying the rules put in place by the authorities?
In Romans 13, Paul speaks very clearly about how those who love Christ and are living for Him should be in submission to authorities:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1 ESV)
While there certainly are exceptions to this command (for example when the authority is using its power to do evil instead of good), this command surely stands when it comes to the rules on our roads, which have been put in place for our common protection and good. By obeying them, we are not only obeying the authorities (and avoiding fines), but we are also obeying the God who put the authorities there in the first place.
How would I describe my attitude to the rules of our roads?
Do I think I’m above the law?
Well, if I’m driving above the speed limit, or texting while driving, or driving while intoxicated, the answer (in most cases) is yes, I think I’m above the law; and if we consider Romans 13:1-7, to disobey good traffic laws which were created to promote the good of society is actually an act of rebellion against God himself.
Loving our neighbour
Who is my nearest neighbour when I’m in my car? Surely it’s everyone else on the road with me, my fellow drivers and passengers (primary), and not the remote person on the other side of the phone (secondary)?
Loving those on the road with me will include driving responsibly, giving my full attention to what is happening around me, and not getting unnecessarily angry.
Let me flesh these principles out in a few practical examples:
I know I’m guilty of often driving just a few km’s above the limit, while trying to rationalise it by saying “well, everyone is driving above the speed limit – I’m actually frustrating the other drivers and putting myself at a greater risk of being involved in an accident by not driving faster.”
But honestly, I do it because I think I’m above the law. I think I know better than those who decided what the speed limit should be. It’s not like speeding is going to save me much time on my rush to work after I’ve overslept – a couple of minutes at most – a simple calculation will show you that.
When it is a matter of life and death, and a few seconds could make all the difference and you should do all you can to save lives (for example if I have a child who is bleeding profusely or struggling to breathe and needs urgent medical attention, then I would drive as fast as I could, and through as many red lights as necessary).
John Piper sums it up very succinctly by saying, “Speed limits were made for man, not man for speed limits. They are not absolute. But they were not made for man in the sense that every man can make his own. That is called anarchy and the root is pride and self-exaltation.”
At the heart of my speeding is pride. Pride – when the speed limit is clearly marked as being 60km/hr., if I knowingly drive above it (no matter how stupid it may seem), I am saying that I am above the law and I will do it my way – essentially I am God here.
TEXTING AND DRIVING
While talking on the phone while driving makes you four times more likely to have an accident, texting and driving makes a crash 23 times more likely. The reason for this is that texting is a visual task and so is driving; meaning that if we try to do both at the same time, both tasks will be impaired2 – the reaction time of texting-distracted drivers is slowed by 35% (which is an impairment greater than that of alcohol and marijuana intoxication combined).3
While we may think that quickly replying to that message that just came through is more important than keeping our eyes on the road, the safety of our immediate neighbour actually calls for our full attention. Our secondary calling is to those who are not physically in proximity. That message can just wait until the engine is off. The more loving thing I can do for my most immediate neighbour is to ignore my phone while driving.
Over the 2016/2017 festive season, over 1 700 people died on our roads (a number equivalent to 5 airplanes), with alcohol abuse reportedly behind at least 65% of these accidents. That’s massive.
I think this one is a no-brainer really, if we consider the commandment of loving God and our neighbour. It’s not loving. Full stop.
We all get angry sometimes; the anger is just expressed in different ways depending on the situation and your personality.
I think Tim Keller explains it well when he says that the root of anger is actually a form of love – it’s either a love for what is right, for others and their welfare (righteous anger) or a ‘disordered’ love (unrighteous anger).5
Road rage falls into the second category – a disordered love of ourselves, our time, and ‘our’ parking space – when someone gets in the way of that, we get out of control angry! I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that it’s not all about me – I’m here to glorify God, and my anger and swearing isn’t very likely going to do that.
While this is probably a topic for an entire article (and there are a lot out there), there are three helpful steps to work on your anger:
- Question yourself as to why you’re so upset
- Feel sorrow for your sin and how it upsets God
- Remember God’s love and mercy in your life
It’s actually very simple.
- Cars require sober awareness of what’s happening at all times. What we need is an other-centred self-control that is rooted in our love for God, and then expressed in love to our neighbours on the road.
- When you drive, keep your phone out of sight, put it on silent or turn it off. Do whatever it takes to show love to your closest neighbours.
- Driving over the speed limit and ignoring road signs, texting and driving, driving while under the influence of alcohol are all dangerous, stupid, and illegal. As Christians, we are called to stop these not just because they are illegal, but because they are a type of neglect of our closest neighbour.6
You might think I’m being overly legalistic here, but I would disagree. My obeying the rules of the road in order to keep myself and those around me safe is a joy – a joy of faith and being able to rest in God’s sovereignty.
John Piper sums it up beautifully by saying “My God will meet all my needs today and he is sovereign over the minutes of my life. When you preach the promises of God to yourself and you bask in the sovereign care of God over your life, you are more valuable than many sparrows. And you preach to yourself that God is perfectly able and willing to add two or 10 or 30 minutes to your day and you rest in his love, then your choice to set the cruise control at 55 and enjoy Jesus all the way to work IS NOT LEGALISM. It is called joy.”