Driving through Detroit recently I was impressed by how much we all depend upon everyone else obeying the rules of traffic. For example, anyone who has been through driver’s training knows that the rules of the road are to obey the speed limits, use your turn signal when changing lanes, keep proper distance between your car and the one in front of you, slow down in construction zones, etc.
When people obey the rules it is often appreciated by other rule-abiders who are grateful for simple things like predictability, a shared commitment to minimizing dangerous situations, thoughtfulness and consideration on the road. When accidents occur among rule-abiders, it is easy to believe the best and assume the fault was due to a malfunction of the car, an unanticipated road hazard or some health issue such as a heart attack, sudden kidney stone or some other natural, unpredictable event.
Others who appreciate those who obey the rules are those who do not have regard for the rules. While they share some of the same values such as an aversion to pain from serious accidents, they are also grateful for people who keep a safe distance from the car in front of them so they can weave back and forth through traffic. Also venerated are law abiding people who choose to obey the speed limit and stay in the right lanes except to pass. This honorable practice gives freedom to the anarchical motorist allowing wide-open left lanes for traveling at excessive speeds, knowing that if a legalist wishes to change lanes he or she will use the turn signal giving the speeder time to quickly accelerate and race by before the car’s lane change begins.
This tongue-in-cheek perspective on traffic rules leads me to a more serious reality that involves the fingerprint of evil. Enamored by those who assume shared core values for life, personal responsibility, deference to others and respect for the individual, the person consumed by evil intentions perceives these behaviors to be weaknesses upon which they choose to capitalize. Surrounded by people who choose to trust, believing the best in others, evil people see opportunities for doing as they wish in spite of the rules with one governing principle: don’t get caught. These people laugh in the face of victims and sneer at law enforcement personnel, marvel at their own ingenuity for beating the system and covering their tracks, leaving behind little more than circumstantial evidence…and, of course, the victims of their crimes.
In Psalm 36:1-4, David writes:
I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong.
The point is that a the total disregard for others begins many times in the small things done in secret. We first note it as a twinge of conscience that informs that what we are about to do is wrong and we choose to blow past our own internal warnings to stop. As James observes in James 1:13-15,
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
This is not to say that minor infractions of our consciences will make us into mass murderers. I am simply observing that the inkling for doing good or evil begins somewhere among the little choices we make every day and the fruit of those decisions impacts our own inner compass as well as the lives of those around us.
As God told Cain shortly before he decided to murder his brother, Abel, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
It seems to me that the nature of man’s struggle with God has not changed very much: it still comes down to those little choices we make every day.