For the most part we all drive some sort of vehicle and are forced to do whatever a sign or a light tells us to. In order to drive a car one must understand this ‘language of the road’. Green = ‘go’, red = ‘stop’, red hand = ‘don’t cross’, flashing yellow = ‘drive through carefully’ and the list goes on.
Anyways, what I really want to discuss is the Christian response to following and not following traffic laws. None of us have followed the laws to the letter. Technically, if you have gone only 1mph over the posted speed limit, you have broken the law. To the gallows with you!
The first area of concern is of course what Paul says in Romans 13:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.”
(See also Titus 3:1, 1 Peter 2:13-14)
‘be subject’, ‘submit’, ‘do what is right’, ‘matter of conscience’… these are common phrases I hear when discussing this topic with those who believe in a rigid, no nonsense understanding of traffic laws. The logic being that God instituted the authorities who instituted the laws which we must obey- therefor to disobeying said laws is to disobey God. (Common exception being laws which contradict with Scripture.)
It is the entire argument, biblically based, that I have ever heard from fellow believers as to why I should drive the speed limit and not run stop signs. My gut reaction is to reject the rigidity of this argument because of how limiting to my freedom it really is. Let us all move beyond such gut reactions…
What other understanding can be reached? How else can a Christian follow his moral obligation to the state while driving?
I begin by attempting to understand the purpose of the traffic laws. Why was a said law created?
For example, a 55mph sign is newly posted on a road because three accidents happened within the same mile stretch within a year. These accidents are determined to have been avoidable if the drivers had been driving at a slower speed. Therefore the government attempts to regulate the speed at which citizens drive on that road for the general safety of the local populace and all the motorists driving there.
The law was thus created to promote safety.
A man who has driven this road everyday for ten years knows of the accidents and even witnessed one of them. The accidents all happened in the morning and occurred on rainy days. The man knows the road is more dangerous when wet and has always slowed his driving to compensate. However, this new law now interferes with his normal timing when coming home from work on dry afternoons. Being that he is a competent driver, who knows the road better than most, he continues to drives faster than 55mph. In doing so he knows he is not putting anyone at risk except that he might someday get a ticket.
The purpose (can I say ‘heart’?) of the law was safety. The man in this example knew what the laws was, knew why it was in place, and knew how to appropriately follow it.
So what is the primary issue here: safety or rigidity? What are we as citizens really trying to obey and the police really trying to enforce? I would argue safety is the prime concern- we are not mindless cows being herded along the roads from pasture to pasture. A reasoning individual can go beyond the rigidity and make driving better for themselves and everyone. Thus it is biblically sound to speed, run stop signs, turn left during a red light, and make other minor traffic violations- ONLY IF one is a competent driver who is aware of his surroundings and is thus promoting the safety of everyone on the road first before making the decision to go beyond the rigidity of the law.
Expect to be pulled over.
Would I debate this with a police officer when I get pulled over? No I would not. I am not in the business of making people who can lock me behind bars mad. I am willing to pay the fine of my alleged ‘law breaking’ on the off chance that I was in fact driving unsafely. I am human and thus errant. I make selfish and unsafe decisions on the road just so I can shave a couple minutes of my trip. I will sometimes attempt to justify it using the same line of reasoning I just presented. I need to be put in my place by a ticket every once in a while, just like the next guy.
However, I like to think that I am a much more competent driver than the next guy. I would like to promote what I call ‘Competent driving’. Competent drivers are aware of their surroundings and fellow motorists and the laws of the road in such a way that they are the example other drivers should follow. They literally are above the law in that they promote safe driving better than any sign could.