God, the Traffic Engineer

mad driver in a car

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” Job 38:4

I left off in a previous post on “Stuck in Traffic” with a description my near apoplectic plight while stuck in an interminable San Francisco traffic jam. If I’d been driving a Sherman tank I might have been able to clear a path and get to my appointment on time. As it was, in order to keep from getting out of my tiny economy car and leaping atop the cars like they do in the movies, I was forced to stay belted repeatedly reciting “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want!”

That sinking feeling of, “What the *&%$ is going on up there?!” gives way to the point when you don’t really care what’s causing the holdup. You just want it to clear up so you get where you’re going! Nevertheless, I’m the sort that requires, if not a solution, at least some kind of explanation for what’s holding my life up. Where is God when I’m trying to get someplace, especially a place he told me to go?

As I mused about this, in keeping with the traffic analogy, I remembered that there are people called “Traffic Engineers.” Wikipedia informed me that these folks employ “engineering techniques to achieve the safe and efficient movement of people and goods on roadways.” It sounds to me like they’re a bunch of people smarter than me whose job description is to use the kind of math I flunked in high school to synchronize the lights, speed limits, stop signs, and traffic flow. Their assignment is to keep congestion below road-rage proportions and protect us from running into each other.

Surely all the rest of us have very little clue about how complicated is the science of it all. Now you may live in Tiny Town, USA with one intersection and a stop sign at which nobody ever comes to an actual stop. I suspect that the college degree required for those who engineered your traffic flow is somewhat less than for, say, New York City. But whether we’re urbanites or country folk we are simply not privy to all that goes into so-called traffic planning.

If you think about the sheer number of cars on an urban highway at rush hour, it’s a wonder that anyone gets anywhere. It’s easy to take for granted the relatively small number of accidents and traffic jams that eventually clear up, as though it just happens. But it’s traffic engineers who deserve most of the credit. They assure that one-way streets don’t run into each other, that left turn lanes don’t turn into traffic, that red and green lights are in sync for maximum safety and minimum disasters, and that metering lights allow cars onto the freeway at a gradual pace.

I wonder if God is sort of like a traffic engineer. Could it be that this is what he was trying to get across to Job who was jammed up with a pile of pain? From Wiget’s Free Translation:

“Where were you when I planned these streets? I know stuff that you don’t know and I can’t really stop and explain it all to you right now. You should consider laying off your horn! It’s not helping. It only annoys people and provokes them to return the favor, resulting in a worldwide cacophony of honks.”

Think about it. God has to work with billions of “drivers” on his tiny planet. He has a “traffic flow” to observe and “accidents” to avert. Like the engineer, he made a system that works for our maximum safety and minimum disasters. But obviously, as with traffic, God’s system doesn’t rule out reckless drivers and freeway flats.

Ever since we thumbed our noses at him in the Garden, things haven’t exactly run the way he originally set them up to run. We injected ourselves with what we thought would make us feel better, but what turned out to be a virus (called “sin”). This virus put us out of sync with each other and with him and clogged our forward motion.

Thanks to his mercy and wise engineering, the planet doesn’t hurl into space or get too close to the sun and incinerate! He hasn’t abandoned us altogether. He does intervene. Sometimes. In his own way.

No matter how smart they are, these engineers can only do what they can do with what they have to work with. They can’t anticipate every eventuality. Throw in factors like drunk drivers, road construction, black ice, double-parked commercial trucks, and all manner of sirened vehicles; and you’ve got frustrated motorists making obscene gestures at one another.

Of course, God lives in an altogether different category, you know, being omniscient and all. But even though he knows what’s coming there he installed in us the standard equipment the frightening freedom to choose how we “drive.” He reduces the dangers of catastrophes, but he doesn’t eliminate them all together. In spite of his clear traffic laws, we still drive the wrong way on one-way streets, run red lights, and turn without signaling. God, the Traffic Engineer can’t be responsible for how we drivers drive.

When I was teaching my kids how to drive, most of my warnings were about keeping the rules – “Stay in your lane, signal at turns, come to a full stop!” etc. There’s a lot to be said for making good – God recommended – choices and averting a lot of collisions and injury to ourselves and others.

But there are a lot other things to take into account that can’t be charged to derelict drivers. Potholes in the road, the runaway soccer ball crossing your path, the blowout on the freeway have nothing to do with breaking the rules. All we can do in such cases is try not to add insult to our injury by inappropriate reaction.

Back to God the “Traffic Engineer.” I tend to believe that his view of the future is as crisp as his memory of the past, but I don’t know how that all works. All I can know for certain is that I don’t know what’s ahead. We can’t know why the traffic is backed up or why we’re rolling at the speed of melting glaciers. (Glacier meltage might not the most apt figure of speech these days if you know what I mean.) Maybe, in essence, God was saying to Job, “You don’t know all that goes into running a universe. So lay off me!”

We experience life as arbitrary simply because we are finite. And when we try to arrogantly deny this finitude by ignoring all we don’t know about creation, we end up either indicting people (as Job’s friends did) or indicting God (as Job did). Gregory Boyd

Ever since the Internet gave us immediate access to what seems like an infinite trove of information, we’re not as convinced of our finitude as we used to be. We now assume that, with enough information, we can solve most any problem and figure out every human dilemma. Truth is, we may have more data at our figure tips, but still the magnitude of God’s universe is not within our grasp. Wikipedia and Google Earth notwithstanding, his paths are still “beyond tracing out.”

After God set him straight about his finitude, Job said, “I spoke of things I didn’t understand, things too wonderful for me.” With him we have to admit that there are an infinite number of things with too much wonder about them, things we can’t understand, and weren’t ever meant to understand – things, that when we try to understand, or think we do understand, do us more harm than good. Tires still blow out, engines still seize, and suicidal animals still run into traffic.

Since we took a detour exit from the Garden, God’s system, though not entirely destroyed, has been severely compromised. We injected ourselves with a virus called “sin.” But we mustn’t forget there’s a virus spreader called “Satan” (a prominent, yet behind the scenes, player in the Job story). Some human disasters are intentionally orchestrated by this anti-God road demon, the Traffic Terrorist. In diametric contrast to God, he creates scenarios for maximum disaster and minimum safety. He aims, through whatever means available to him, to destroy every person behind the wheel.

Still, apart from law-breaking drivers and their demons, bad stuff happens along the way. Human suffering cannot always be attributed to the devil or to humans wielding their free will in the wrong direction. Sometimes it’s simply part of the randomness of a world experiencing the consequences of its fallen stewards.

Therefore, in harmony with the Creator and all its creatures, the fallen creation “groans” for a better day. And until that day arrives, there will be wearisome traffic jams and disastrous human wreckage.

God, like the traffic engineer, doesn’t force us to obey his laws. He created a system that reduces the risk of us getting hurt and hurting each other, but he seldom takes control of the wheel and force us to comply with the rules.

Don’t get me wrong. No doubt, God does often get involved in our lives to prevent tragedies and protect us from harm. I pray everyday for myself, for my kids and grandkids, and friends to be protected from harm, sickness, and demonic attack. I stand on firm biblical precedent for those kinds of requests. Whether or not God always answers those prayers (in the affirmative), I pray them anyway.

With or without my prayers, God loves us and I’m convinced he’ll do all he can to preserve us for our good and his glory. But if he doesn’t, I’ll keep putting my requests in his suggestion box.

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