When only grace wins
Did you see the video of the woman who drove on the sidewalk to go around a stopped school bus? It happened a few weeks ago and became something of an internet sensation. It even made the national news. You can see it here. There was a lot of sputtering outrage and, eventually the judge sentenced her to a 30 day suspended license and a $250 fine. She then added the requirement to stand on that corner holding a sign reading “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”
Well, the hapless driver has now done it. She stood on a Cleveland sidewalk in 34 degree weather holding the sign. To be sure the media was out in force and passing drivers had comments galore. Some thought the punishment was “cruel and unusual” while others felt it was not enough for her callous indifference to safety. But there was one common reaction that dominated.
The woman in question was dressed for the weather so was hard to recognize. This was made more difficult by the large sun glasses she wore. When you add to that fact that she frequently leaned on a fence quite far from the road; that she held the sign down at her feet and not overhead; that she wore headphones and frequently talked, even laughing, on the phone she was hardly a picture of abject repentance. This, of course, outraged many people and she is again in the news.
What this points out to me is something we Christians should know very well – the law has no power to enforce repentance. Yes, the woman was out there obeying the ruling but every sign pointed to the belief that she was bored rather than sorry. There was no doubt that she regretted she had to go through the humiliating exercise but no evidence that her heart had been changed.
Yes, law can enforce behavior. Yes, punishment can seem to balance the scales. But there is no way it can change a heart; only grace can win that game. Paul could have told them this. In Romans he says “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did. By sending his own Son in the form of humanity, he condemned sin by being incarnate,”
We Christians could have told the judge this. We’d never have false expectations about the law. Or would we? Sadly, we would. Though saved by grace we too have the desire for punishment and revenge on wrong-doers. Someone hurts us and we want them to hurt too. It only seems fair. It only seems right. We love grace when we receive it but are not so happy giving it. We see a sinful world around us and seek to, like the judge, enforce behavior we know is right; and we find ourselves powerless. Only grace wins.
But does it? If the judge had showed grace to the woman, would she have been any different? Our fear is that she would be even less repentant. She would have “gotten away with it.” Dishing out grace is a risky business. If often doesn’t seem to work. We forgive someone and they go right on hurting us. We say we love sinners and they go right on sinning. How is that winning?
We always need to remind ourselves that repentance is not enforceable; it comes only through the Spirit. But we win in our own hearts. Grace wins in that only grace and forgiveness removes our own bitterness in the face of hurting and sin.
I hear that the woman will be going back to the corner for the second day of sign-holding. This time the judge says she is going to be out there too. What would you talk to that woman about if you were the one spending the day on the corner with her?