Every now and then someone will do something so idiotic and reckless on the interstate that it makes my blood boil. Now, you probably do not know me, so you need to know that I am not typically a hot-tempered person. However, I have been so aggravated by the audacious lack of consideration for other people that I have felt justified in my anger. Their recklessness could cost the lives of other people for crying out loud! If my babies are in the car with me, that only ignites my righteous anger all the more.
Sometimes I wish to myself that they would get pulled over. How satisfying would it be to watch someone carelessly zip past you only to see them pulled over a couple miles ahead? It would feel like sweet vindication wouldn’t it?
Obviously, if someone is being reckless and almost causing an accident it seems pretty reasonable to be angry. But, I have to confess that sometimes people have just cut me off rudely, but not necessarily dangerously. Their action wouldn’t have caused an accident. It just wasn’t nice. Exaggerating the magnitude of their carelessness adds to the sense of justification though. Maybe you have never done that, but I have often found myself turning a “molehill into a mountain.” My outrage at people’s driving blunders is most times disproportionate to the wrong.
One time I actually stopped and asked myself, “Why does this anger me so much? Why does someone cutting me off come across as an affront to my very existence?” I realized, at least for me, it bothers me that someone could deem me worth so little acknowledgment that they could assert their value over mine by cutting me off. I know that sounds deep, but that’s what it is really about when we get offended by someone else’s inconsideration. They’ve made a statement about our value, our worth. When someone is rude or inconsiderate of us, it threatens our value by their asserting their value as more important.
Hence, it would seem that our anger at the injustice done to us is really about our identity. We feel wronged when our value has been diminished, disregarded, or discounted. We feel wronged when someone asserts their worth over ours, when someone robs us of value to enhance their own, or when someone simply has little regard for our personhood.
We feel wronged. Sometimes we are justified in our feeling of injustice. Other times, it is really not that big of a deal, but we are so deficient in our own self-worth that we grasp at anything to prop up our identity. It is in this environment that revenge flourishes because revenge promises to balance the scales. Revenge promises that our value can be restored if we simply take back what is ours.
We resort to all sorts of petty actions in our attempt to execute justice. We will gossip about coworkers, undermine our superiors, passive-aggressively jab at our spouses, manipulate our kids, sabotage our peers, write angry posts on social media, brawl, lie, steal, cheat—we will do whatever we deem necessary in order to dominate others so that our value is in fact proven to be worth more than theirs.
See, we don’t want justice if it means our enemies are weighed on the same scale as us. Which is why we have such a hard time trusting God to take care of it. We actually want to come out on top. We want retribution; we want justice and compensation for being wronged. Therefore, it is obvious that we must take matters into our own hands.
You know how I said I get mad on the road when people do something rude or stupid? Have you ever been angered by someone’s driving mistake only to do something stupid yourself? I have.
I remember one sunny morning I was on my way into the office. Sometimes I would take different routes just to switch up my commute. Do you ever do that? I was taking some roads in the downtown area of our town. For whatever reason, all little towns seem to have some areas where there are these odd one-way streets. As I was zig-zagging through our downtown streets, I came up to an intersection where a one-way intersected with the two-way street I was on. I had a stop sign. The one-way street did not.
Sometimes, I don’t really know what goes through my head when I make absent minded mistakes. I likely rolled through my stop sign, assuming the one-way also had a stop sign. Just as I was about to pull through the intersection an SUV passed in front of me. I slammed on my breaks in time, but not before I scared her so badly that she also slammed on her breaks. She had a travel mug of coffee in her hand. You can probably guess how that turned out. She spilled some of her coffee. I made the mistake of making eye contact and I saw her mouth a profanity. I mouthed, “I’m sorry…”
That is just one incident of my own driving mishap. I have driven down a one-way the wrong way, accidentally blown through a stop sign, almost backed into someone—you name it, I’ve probably made the mistake. When I originally started this chapter none of my driving mistakes had resulted in an at-fault accident with the exception of my very first accident as a teenager. However, recently I rear-ended someone because I looked at my phone for a brief millisecond. Every time I make a driving blunder I feel like an idiot. I am so embarrassed by my absentmindedness. I feel even more foolish many times because earlier in the week I had so little grace with someone else’s driving error.
This is exactly why we cannot sit in the judge’s seat. Because, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” If my own driving blunders were judged by the standard I judge others, then my license would likely be revoked. We are all terribly guilty of this all of the time. We are biased and we see things from our own vantage point. We always see our side of the story as more right than other’s. We always sympathize with our own “legitimizing” excuses while leaving others little to no room for excuse.
We judge our co-workers for being lazy and late to work, but when we are late we have reasonable excuses. The kids were difficult, traffic was bad, there was a train again, the battery in the car died because of the winter temperatures, and so on. I remember judging the parenting tactics of other parents before I had kids. That was a mistake. If you are married, you have likely used different standards of justice with your spouse. I know I have. I have been quick to call out my wife when she is a little “grumpy,” giving her little grace for her snarky attitude. When the tables are turned though, I have legitimizing excuses: I am under a lot of stress at work, the kids were pushing my buttons, I didn’t get enough sleep—you get the idea.
I have found it most puzzling and almost humorous the hypocrisy I have seen in the wake of our tense political climate. I am not intending to express a specific political position on any particular topic, but I want to use a brief example I have witnessed. I have personally heard people complain about getting a speeding ticket and about the injustice of taxes. When the law demands consequences to be dealt out to them, they claim “injustice”! Yet, it is often these same people who elevate the American immigration laws to the place of biblical authority declaring, “We must obey the laws of the land.” When consequences are applied to someone else, it is not grace or injustice they appeal to. Rather, they demand the letter of the law be met.
We can never be judge and jury. We will always see our own errors as deserving of grace and others as deserving of punishment. It is completely and utterly impossible for us to hold a neutral position. Therefore, our every attempt to balance the scales in any sort of retributive or vengeful way adds to the injustice in our world that must be made right. Think about that. Our revenge efforts add to the chaos of injustice.
And, in that way, we are no better off than our enemies.