I like to think of myself as a reasonably good driver. I make sure I’m paying attention to the vehicles around me, my phone is in my pocket or the hands-free holder, I try not to speed, I’m faithful about signaling, and I don’t like making a lot of lane changes. Traffic usually doesn’t get me worked up. I figure that if I go the speed limit, and take my time, I’ll get where I’m going about the same time as the person who is in a terrible hurry. I like to stop at the stop line, and I won’t edge out into the intersection just to try to make that last left turn after the light turns red. So, I’m having a hard time coming to terms with last Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, I was taking Cyrus to school, and traffic always gets a little heavy through the construction zone on the freeway. We were all moving along at a fair rate of speed—about the posted limit—but as we were coming to the end of the construction, just before the freeway opened up to three lanes, someone up ahead decided to slam on their brakes. It was one of those fairly minor cascading fender-benders where no one was hurt, but everyone’s car gets banged up a little. We were the final of seven vehicles involved—our front fender was creased pretty good by the pickup that was stopped to our right.
So, here’s the thing. I really believed that I was a pretty good driver, a careful driver, but the fact that I was not able to avoid this accident says otherwise. By definition, if your car bumps into another car—regardless of what seems like extenuating circumstances—you were following too close. That’s a moving violation. We’re all supposed to leave enough space around our vehicles to avoid any potential hazards created by other cars. We know that but we don’t always do it. The fact that everyone else on the freeway was guilty of the same thing doesn’t mean I didn’t deserve the ticket. So, what does that do to my self-perception? Am I the good driver I thought I was?
I wouldn’t want to polarize this—it’s not like there are good drivers who always can avoid accidents, and terrible drivers who will always get into accidents. There’s a wide spectrum here. What I’ve been thinking about, though, is my self-perception. Do I hold other self-perceptions that aren’t really as accurate as I think they are? The image I had of myself as a cautious, safe driver has been called into question. Maybe I’m not as careful as I think I am. And maybe there are other areas where my self-image needs to be reexamined.
In Romans 12, Paul offers this wonderful challenge to the believers in Rome—to not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but instead to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. The implication is that the Christian is capable of reaching beyond the corrupted way the world does things, and taking ahold of a better, richer, more ethical kind of life. The human mind can be renewed, and transformed by the power of the Spirit. And, since this is a real possibility for the believer, we might be tempted to think that we’re already there, we believe our behavior is a sign of this transformation, even when our actual behavior says otherwise.
Paul goes on in the next verse to caution members of the Roman church "not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Perhaps they were in danger of thinking they were better drivers than they really were. There’s a famous saying attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Fooling others is one thing, but how good are we at fooling ourselves? We may be our own most gullible audience. We may think we are compassionate, but we resort to harsh words when under pressure. We may think we’re kind and gentle, but when things go sideways, look out. We claim Christ-like lives, but do we really live them? When the world slams on the brakes in front of us, are we transformed enough to avoid getting caught in a crash?
We all have a ways to go on this transformation stuff. We’re all in progress, awaiting the restoration of all things. So the reality is that none of us is as good a driver as we think we are. But instead of viewing that from a defeatist perspective that says “why even bother?” we can look at our imperfections as the growing edges of our transformation, the places where God is illuminating where He wants us to focus our attention. But we should probably stop fooling ourselves, and look at our lives with “sober judgment” instead. Paul’s concern is that pride may cloud the image the Roman believers have of themselves, and they may end up in an accident. My shortcomings as a driver were shown to me the other day, and I’ve committed to being better. But if I had been looking at my driving with a little more “sober judgment” in the first place, I may have avoided the accident all together. Admitting that we’re not perfect and that our perspectives may need a little transformation is not a failing. Humility in our self-image can be healthy—it keeps us from going too far, too fast.