On Getting Stuck In A Ditch
I had been trying to be a good person by not being bad. I realized that I had fallen into a ditch.
I was driving down our two-lane state highway here in Missouri one day this Spring. It’s officially called a “highway” but this particular stretch is little more than a two-lane country road, with deep ditches on either side and no shoulder to speak of. I drive this way twice a day every day going to and from work, and normally I don’t pay any attention to the ditches, but about a week earlier we had snow and ice here and my van lost traction and slid into a ditch. Not on this highway, thank God. The ditch I slid into was shallower. So I was looking at these deeper ditches feeling grateful that I didn’t slip off into one of them.
Looking at these ditches, I had an epiphany. A couple of thoughts that seemed unrelated at first were bouncing around in my head. One thought was, “I’m glad I’m not in that ditch,” and the other was something that had been on my mind that day. For some reason, it had occurred to me that I had been trying to be a good person by not being bad. These two thoughts came together and a new idea formed. I realized that I had fallen into a ditch, after all, metaphorically speaking.
On Being Good
Over the years I had subconsciously learned to define a good person as someone who doesn’t do bad things or have bad habits. Since I generally avoid doing bad things I consider myself to be a good person, but not because I actually do good things. I had decided that since I don’t cuss, or litter, or do drugs, I’m a good person. When I became aware of this way of thinking I said to myself, “so, okay, I don’t do bad stuff, but when was the last time I did something nice for someone?”
Of course, that’s not even the worst of it. I call myself a Christian, but really if all I do is avoid sin, I am completely missing the point of Jesus’ teachings and his heart for people. Everything he taught built off the two greatest commandments, “love the Lord your God,” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” Instead of loving my neighbor as myself, I was judging her, and only by what I could see. All the while I still thought I was a pretty good person, just because I wasn’t being bad.
That’s when I realized I had fallen into a ditch.
Call it the ditch of “Arrogance In My Good Deeds.” The funny thing is I thought I was avoiding the ditch. Maybe I was avoiding one ditch, but I fell into another ditch, so in the end what difference does it make?
I don’t want to be in a ditch but apparently trying to avoid ditches doesn’t work, so what do I do? Is there is a better way to stay on the road?
Don’t Avoid The Ditch
On my drive home that day I suddenly imagined that Jesus was riding shotgun. He pointed to the ditch and said, “see that deep ditch? It’s just inches away, and yet you don’t worry about falling into it. Why is that?”
“Well, it never occurs to me to worry about it,” I told him.
“Why?” He pressed.
“Well, I just keep my eyes on the road ahead and I don’t think about the ditch.”
He was silent after that so I stole a quick glance in his direction. He was smiling and looking out the windshield. He seemed to have made his point but I was puzzled. Why bring it up at all? Isn’t it obvious? I mean, it is the first lesson in Driver’s Ed: keep your eyes on the road.
Jesus let me ponder on it for a moment and then said, “That’s how I want you to live.”
Suddenly I realized he wasn’t giving me a driving lesson, he’s using the road and the ditch as a metaphor my life. I think I understand. Over and over during Jesus life, he said, “follow me.” Now, how am I going to follow him if I’m constantly looking for all the things I should be avoiding? If I’m going to stay on the road Jesus is leading me down I have to keep my eyes on him, just as with driving I focus on the road ahead of me and ignore the ditch. In order to live the life he wants me to live, I need to change my focus.
Looking for Jesus
I was listening to a sermon podcast last week and the sermon was simple titled “Faith.” The preacher made the point that the object of our faith is not a “what,” but a “whom.” We follow a person, not a set of principles. When we read the Bible we should be looking for Jesus. God gave us the Bible so we can know him.
But for years that’s not how I read the Bible. I didn’t read it looking for God’s heart. I didn’t read it expecting to fall in love with Jesus. I wasn’t trying to know God better. People told me God wanted a relationship with me. I thought that sounded nice but I didn’t really put much effort into pursuing it. I just wanted to live a good life. I just wanted to avoid bad consequences and find peace and happiness, then go to heaven when I die. And I was missing the most important part.
You know how when a relationship is good, it’s really good? That’s what God wants with us. The problem is we are born into this world not knowing God. We don’t have a relationship with God, so we don’t know we’re missing out. C.S. Lewis compares us to children in the slum, in his book, “The Weight of Glory,” we have been offered, he says, a holiday at the sea, but since we can’t possibly imagine what that could mean, we are content to go on making mud pies. We fool around with sex, money, and power when God is offering us infinite joy. Our imaginations are too small, and “our desires are not too strong, but too weak.” We don’t know what we truly want and even if we do know, we don’t want it badly enough to actually go out and get it.
To make matters worse we have the wrong idea about what God is up to. It’s so easy to assume that the point of the Christian religion is to avoid bad behavior in this life so we can escape the fires of Hell in the life to come. But what God is really trying to do is give us back everything Adam and Eve lost for us in the Garden of Eden, and then some. He used to walk with them through the Garden. That’s what God has in store for us: doing life together. That and a thousand other things we can’t even begin to imagine.
The most Glorious thing about Heaven won’t be the streets of gold, as wonderful as that might be. The most glorious thing about Heaven will be that God will once again dwell with his people. Imagine that! God, the all-powerful one wants to live with us stupid, flawed humans! Of course, God isn’t going to leave us like this. That’s the hope of redemption. The same power that raised Jesus from the grave, God will use to make us into the people he always meant for us to be.
That’s the part I was missing. God doesn’t want to burden us with restrictive rules, he wants to set us free from your self-destructive tendencies. Follow him and you can stay out of those ditches.
Let me just leave you with the words Jesus spoke to an adulterous woman: Then neither do I condemn you, . . . Go now and leave your life of sin. John 8:11 NIV
This blog originally appeared on WedgeWrites