“God is worshiped more by mercy than by any single act, for nothing is so appropriate as mercy in his regard, since mercy and truth go before him. We must offer him mercy for others rather than our judgment upon them.”
from a sermon of Gregory of Nazianzus (c.329-390), Bishop of Constantinople
While driving last week, I found myself in a no-win situation. I had merged into the right lane which was empty of traffic. I managed to time it so there was a nice space between the cars in the other lane when I entered, thus setting up an easy merge when my lane ended a little way down the road. The driver behind me in the other lane wasn’t having any of it. They sped up to prevent me from merging in front of them. I played dumb and tried to merge anyway, but was met only with a horn and acceleration. Slowing down, I gave up and merged behind, feeling angry at the other and frustrated with myself for losing.
It’s funny how predictable other drivers can be. As soon as I merged, I could tell things weren’t going to go smoothly. It was clear the other driver wasn’t going to let me in. But I just knew I was in the right, so I pressed the issue and came away feeling badly. I’d risked an accident to save essentially no time at all. Worse, bad feelings lingered for the better part of an hour.
Most upsetting was the realization that, in upholding one important value (justice), I’d trampled upon others (mercy and kindness). Worse, I did so while standing up for something totally unimportant, if not flat-out mistaken (there’s a non-zero chance I was the wrong one). Instead of turning the other cheek or going the extra mile, I rose to meet the other driver’s aggression. In trying to push back on injustice, I just brought more of it into the world. Did the sound of my horn cause the other driver to suddenly see the error of their ways? Doubtful. Did my valiant pursuit of traffic justice increase love and kindness in the world? Not at all. That’s not what I want to be about and that’s not what God wants, either.
Having realized that my behavior isn’t in line with God’s hope for me, I’m trying to drive differently. When I get behind the wheel, I say to myself, “kindness, love, compassion.” That’s what I want to put out into the world—indeed, that’s what God calls me to. It doesn’t change just because I’m in a car.
An opportunity to practice popped up yesterday. Someone pulled up next to me at a light. I just knew that when the light turned green, the driver was going to floor it to get ahead of me. When they did exactly that, justice tugged at my foot. Zoom ahead, it said, Show ‘em they can’t just cut you off! But remembering what was more important, I held back, just accelerated like normal, and let them go. I didn’t particularly like the feeling of being left in the dust. But I very much liked how it felt to act as I believe God would have me do, with kindness and compassion; with mercy and not with judgment.
Yours in Christ,Justin