Red light photo enforcement: Is this Your Image of God?
I just bought a GPS with a great new feature: it warns me when I’m approaching a traffic light equipped with a camera. The beloved Philadelphia Parking Authority just installed one close to the Harvest USA office. Believe me… I’ll never risk sliding through that yellow light again! It’s amazing how compliant drivers become when we’re being watched…
How does this connect with our obedience to God? You’ve probably heard it said that in order to sin you need to be a functional atheist. You need to believe that God doesn’t exist and you are free to do whatever you please. On one level this is true, but is it helpful to see God as the cosmic red light enforcement agent? Will this produce obedience? Knowing God is always with us does produce obedience, but our understanding of what his presence with us means makes all the difference in the world.
He is NOT about red light enforcement! The people behind the camera don’t care whether I make it through the intersection safely, only that I don’t break the law. In fact, they exist to profit from my disobedience. Too many people struggling with sexual sin understand God’s presence to mean he’s looking over their shoulder with pad and pen in hand, compiling an endless list of black marks next to their name. At best, some are grateful that because of Jesus at least the marks will be erased on the last day. But they are missing the glorious wonder of God’s presence. He is seen as a threat rather than a “very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).
This view could not be further from the truth. God is present with you because he cares. Consider Psalm 139: after describing how God knows every thought he’s ever had, knows every word before he speaks it, is monitoring literally every step he takes in his life (all of which tend to fill us with dread), David concludes, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it” (v. 6). He is overcome by joy. God’s closeness reveals his desire for relationship. The depth of intimacy that already exists is what we are invited to embrace. And – gloriously! – when this is our understanding of God’s presence, it motivates obedience. We are compelled by the love of Christ. So, rather than shrinking back from God in shame, David (who was no stranger to sexual sin) ends the psalm asking God to open his eyes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (vv. 23-24). God is so close because he loves and cares for us. When we understand this, we can boldly ask him to enter in and open our eyes because we know it is in love that he exposes our sin to draw us closer to himself.
I recently made one of my biggest parental blunders to date: showing my daughters a suspenseful film they just weren’t ready for. And I’ve paid the price: repeated cries of “Daaaaddy!” in the wee hours of the morning. (What was I thinking?!) On one of these occasions I read to them from Psalm 121. The Hebrew word used 6 times in just 8 verses describes God as a guardian, one who keeps close watch, protecting us from all harm. Two of the verses underscore this reality promising that God “will neither slumber or sleep” (v. 3-4). My daughter can rest secure because God’s eyes are always on her. He is unsleeping, ever vigilant, covering her with his wings so she can sleep in peace. It’s the same in our struggle with sexual sin. God is always watching because he loves you and promises “to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). He is relentless in his pursuit of our hearts and commitment to conform us to the image of Jesus.
How has your view of God as a traffic cop impacted your relationship with him?
What would change if you believed his presence is the result of his love and delight in you?