Yesterday, my lovely girlfriend and I were in the backyard driveway at my house washing my Volvo Station Wagon. It was a cute boyfriend/girlfriend thing to do. I described methods for getting all the bugs off, and I talked knowingly about repairs and updates that needed to be done on the car, as if I knew about car maintenance. She was digging it.
Suddenly, we both heard a loud crunch, coming from the road. No screeching tires, just a collision.
She turned to me, “Was that a car crash?”
“Yes. Oh man. I’ll go see if they are alright.”
As I walked around the house to the busy road in front, I expected to see a simple rear-end collision. Instead, I saw two mini-vans in the front yard across the street. One of them had T-boned the other. But why in the world were they in the front yard, not obstructing traffic at all?
One of the mini-vans looked like someone was still in the driver seat, pinned in by the other van outside his door. I had to wait for a car to stop so I could cross the street.
I walked up to the passenger side of the T-bone’s victim. There was an old man whose adrenaline must have been the highest that it’s been in a solid decade.
“Sir, are you hurt?” I opened the passenger door, and immediately smelled the box of fried chicken on the passenger seat.
“I’m okay.” I could see his mouth was bleeding. “I just picked up dinner and was turning into my driveway.”
“Maybe turn your car off,” I said. “And let me help you get out of there.”
I began helping him climb over the passenger seat out of the car, because the driver side door was destroyed, and the other van was still pinning it shut. His glasses were on the floor, and I reached down to grab them so he wouldn’t step on them.
“Guess my van is about shot. Guess it’s about done. Guess it’s totaled.” His voice was shaking.
As he explained the accident, it became obvious that the woman who hit him was completely at fault. A car had come to a stop in front of her, and in front of that car, the old man was turning left into his driveway. She sped around that ghost car assuming it was stopping for no reason and slammed into the old man as he turned.
That explained why we hadn’t heard screeching tires.
Her van hit the old man so hard that both of their cars ended up in his front yard.
I handed the old man his glasses and walked with him around the front of his car. We heard the old woman on the phone.
This is where things get theological.
Her van was not too badly damaged. In fact, considering how far she had pushed the old man’s van, she must have come to a stop quite gradually. She was on the phone with, presumably, her husband, “Some idiot stopped in the middle of the road for no reason and then I didn’t know that someone in front of him was turning.”
At first, I wanted to stay to make sure that the old man didn’t lose his temper at this woman who was obviously delusional about who the idiot in this situation was. Then I realized she was talking about the ghost car. But really? In this situation, where a poor old man stood with a bloody lip, a totaled car, probably some back pain, and certainly a ruined dinner, she was the indisputable idiot. Couldn’t she see that?
But then why was she self-justifying?
In this situation, where there was certainly no legal dispute about whose fault this was, why is she looking to put the blame elsewhere? Even if an “idiot” had stopped for no reason, people on the road are allowed to brake. It’s your job to slow down and resist speeding madly around them.
I have crashed cars before. I remember feeling like a complete moron afterward. It’s such an incredibly shameful moment, especially if it’s during rush hour and traffic is obstructed. And people are driving by, slowing down to eye up the damage, all the while thinking to themselves, “I wonder which idiot caused this.”
But, still, why do we need to self-justify? Why can’t it just be our fault?
Because we have no room for failure in all of our respective theologies. In all our world-views, failure is anti-progress, and anti-progress is deserving of condemnation. Anti-progress, we think, is anti-everything. Progress is everything. Failing is nothing.
If we aren’t moving forward, says the world (and our hearts), then we are nothing. Failing renders you, and me, nothing.
We can deny failure, and claim it was some other idiot‘s fault, or we can accept failure and be deemed nothing.
Unless we have faith that there is a God who can create ex nihilo – out of nothing, then the second option is simply off the table. Who in their right mind willingly confronts failure? We will scavenge for any scrap of glory left in a situation. Sometimes, the only remaining glory is found by calling someone else an idiot, and standing morally superior to that person.
Without the promise of a resurrected savior who demands nothing on our part, we are bound to obsessively assert that we are something.
Without the promise of a resurrected savior, we are not free to fail, but rather in bondage to delusional glory-seeking.
And we are stuck blaming ghost cars instead of helping the battered old man that we just slammed into.