Gentle Answers #2: How Fast?

Short and sweet, here’s the next question:

Is it a sin to go 66mph in a 65mph zone?

(I hope you’ll join in the conversation! And remember to keep submitting your questions.)

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Rich Holdeman responds:

No.

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Barry York responds:

Yes, but it is a far greater sin to keep the speed limit and believe yourself superior to those who do not or, dare I say, to swerve to miss the gnat hitting the windshield only to run into a camel.

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James Faris responds:

Is it a sin to go one mile-per-hour over the speed limit? Not if you a first responder such as a police officer! But, what about the rest of us? God has given the state real authority. The state must establish certain laws beyond the specific direction of Scripture for safety, just as parents do for their children. These laws should be obeyed as part of our obedience to God, insofar as the do not require us to sin (Romans 13:5).

We must also understand how the law functions. Jesus showed the Pharisees in Matthew 12:11 that they did understand how the law is to function based on what the Pharisees would do with one of their own sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath. It may be wrong to curl sheep on the Sabbath to build your biceps, but it is not wrong to lift a sheep from a pit on the Sabbath.

So with speed limits, a civil law instituted by man for the sake of safety. We are to abide by the law, but for the sake of safety there will be times when we need to speed up – the magistrates who wrote the law knew so, and officers on the roads enforce the laws with that knowledge. However, we should not use those times of necessity as an excuse for sin.

What does it mean to go-with-the-flow of traffic for safety’s sake? It is a judgment call, and it requires wisdom. Far more could be written about the nature of law and government on this topic. But, this kind of question often reflects matters of the heart. Are we simply looking for excuses to sin? Let’s be honest, it’s not all that difficult to figure out at a practical level. Examine your heart by asking: “When I pass an officer on the side of the road, do I instinctively slow down?”

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25 Comments

  1. timbloedow May 23, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    It’s wrong to allow behaviour modification laws to bind our consciences in the same way as criminal laws against offenses that should be banned by the full force of the state. Typically with these behaviour modification laws, the state enforces them with discretion, and we should not feel any offense in exercising the same discretion in obeying them. If we think otherwise, we are grooming ourselves to placidly capitulate to a totalitarian state in sharp contrast to the robust ethic of liberty and civil disobedience that once was such a powerful gift to the world through the Presbyterian tradition.

    My son recently got his license. I was very firm with him prior to receiving his license about keeping the letter of the law to drum into him the mentality he needed to pass his drivers ed and his eventual licensing test. I no longer expect him to maintain the letter of the law. Rather I want him to develop confidence and to learn to use wisdom and good judgment. So many people including Christians do whatever the state says is OK because the state says it’s OK, suspending personal judgment. In the area of driving, it’s amazing how many Christians respond regarding speed limits as though the limits are immutable standards, giving deference to the state that only belongs to God.

    Rather, we need to exercise wisdom, especially in driving. Learning sound judgment by prudent experience. When you have a tragic accident, it doesn’t help a whole lot after the fact (except maybe to keep you out of jail) to be able to say, “but I obeyed the letter of the law.” But if ongoing development of sound judgment and better skills through experience and stretching yourself and prudently strengthening your driving “muscle,” enables you to be a better defensive driver and better able to take evasive action in the case of an emergency situation, then that is much better.

    My son is a Christian with mostly sound judgment and a generally cautious spirit, which helps when it comes to driving, so that helps a great deal. But I want him to push himself and strengthen his expertise, not simply say and think, “My driving duty is done as long as I obey the letter of the law”, as though he will somehow magically be kept from any dangerous situations because he kept the speed limit.

  2. alcoramdeo May 23, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Our fundamental nature (the natural man) is at enmity with God and is self-serving. Our new nature in Christ (the spiritual man) seeks to be godly and to please our Lord in all our thoughts, words and conduct.

    Most questions of what constitutes righteousness, sin, obedience or disobedience to God, are much easier to resolve when we remind ourselves that we live in the presence and under the constant scrutiny of our living Lord. We pose our inquiries to one another all too often in the hope of receiving a response that will justify a behavior pattern we have pre-selected and prefer, using it to excuse our doing as we please. The simple truth is that the God who knows our every thought and observes our every action has instructed us to seek His own wisdom in all matters– not merely from each other, but to apply directly to Him and to know that He abundantly answers such prayers (James 1:5). He does not promise how or within what time frame He will answer, nor that we will immediately appreciate or enjoy the answer He provides, but this and numerous other passages assure us that His grace will satisfy our needs (cf Romans 8:28).

    What we must constantly apply ourselves to is the remembrance that we live before the face of God, with the purpose that in all things Christ may have the preeminence and receive all glory. The question* is always “How may I best please You, LORD?”– it is never “How much can I please myself with out displeasing You?”

    *NOTE: This is not a question for me to ask myself, but a direct address to my living Lord.

    • Jared Olivetti May 24, 2012 at 2:35 pm #

      Thanks for this note. It seems a very helpful meditation on the deeper issues at stake in the question!

  3. dude234@hotmail.com May 23, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    It’s impossible to perfectly keep the law of the state in the U.S. (and most developed nations) anymore because we have no idea what the totality of the law is. We have laws at the federal, state, and local levels. What it all means is incomprehensible.

    There are so many criminal laws, the odds of NOT breaking one in a lifetime are slim. The total number of Federal crimes as of the end of 2007 exceeded 4,450 (to say nothing about civil violations). The USC alone is currently 160,000 pages (and we’re adding to it every year). I think that’s a stack of paper about 40 feet high. No one knows everything that’s in there. Kids can’t even open a lemonade stand in many places without violating local ordinances.

    The problem this causes is, as Winston Churchill said, “If you have ten thousand regulations, you destroy all respect for the law.” Little wonder then that we see such disrespect for state laws in our day – to say nothing of the moral law, which God summarized in only Ten Commandments.

    • Jared Olivetti May 24, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

      Dear Dude… “Yes, but..” While I agree that the law is overwrought and it’s impossible to keep them all perfectly, especially because of our ignorance of them, this is one law we do know of. Few police officers would be sympathetic if this were a way to argue out of a ticket, don’t you think?

  4. Rose May 23, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Until recently the thought that God gave civil authority real authority would not have given me any pause. It seemed incontrovertible. However, I recently came across a book written for women in which it was asserted that when God gives authority to someone God gives up control to that person, for better or for worse. This was so clearly contrary to revelation that it shocked me into realizing that God places creatures in places of authority, but he does not actually give authority to anyone, probably related to not sharing his glory with another. He definitely does not give up control. Authority that honors God should be honored. Force or coercion that does not honor God might be obeyed to keep the peace and thus honor God. But all authority belongs to God and is to be evaluated in the light he gives. Hence, real authority is never exercised arbitrarily or unjustly, for God is not arbitrary or unjust. It is exercised as a service to those who are under it. It requires spiritual discernment to recognize real authority, but, thankfully, as God’s Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, we all have access to such discernment.

    • Jared Olivetti May 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      Hi Rose,

      Thanks for writing in! I’ve been thinking a lot lately, too, about the issue of submission and authority in the Christian life. I’m terrified at what you report from the book you recently read. Scripture teaches that the only full and final authority is God Himself. All other authority is necessarily derived and limited.

      The only part of your note that I might take issue with is whether we submit to arbitrary laws. Taking the apostles’ example from Acts 5, I believe we should submit to the authority over us in all things right up to the line where they ask us to disobey God (what you might have referred to as unjust). In other words, authority used arbitrarily doesn’t negate that authority, though it may well lessen how the authority is glorifying to God. Otherwise, we would all be left to simply decide which laws seem arbitrary or unjust–that’s a slippery slope I certainly don’t want to be on.

      In Christ,
      Jared

  5. Little Cloud May 23, 2012 at 11:41 pm #

    If I exceed the speed limit, even by just one MPH, I have broken the law. The fact that I will not likely get a ticket, or that everyone else does it, or that I don’t agree with the law does not change the fact that a law was broken.

    If the speed limit is a suggestion, I am curious to know what other laws readers think I can disregard.

  6. timbloedow May 24, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    Some governments ban cutting a tree down on your own property without permission. I would have no problem with breaking such a law. In a rural environment where it’s not going to be aesthetically offensive, I have no problem with throwing vegetation such as a banana peel or apple core out the window, but others would say that violates litering laws. I “jaywalk” as well. One has to be careful not to treat all law as the same kind of law and slavishly or roboticallyl conform to everything a renegade civil magistrate tells us to do.

    I think one can make quite a clear distinction between “behaviour modification” laws by nanny-state-ist governments and criminal law. And when the state officials themselves exercise discretion in enforcement AND when you’re dealing with laws where enforcement is complaint-based, then I don’t think there is the same obligation at all to enslave ourselves to a rigid compliance with such laws. To say otherwise, it seems to me, is to enslave ourselves to another god, the god of the Humanist totalitarian state that wants willingly compliant slave-citizens who won’t get uppity as they pursue their grand social experiments – in much the same way that government school teachers and principles want – and nurture – the same willingly compliant slave mentality among the student body upon which they are imposing the grand social experimentation of government schooling.

    • Jared Olivetti May 24, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

      Tim, I’m really going back and forth on your train of thought. I really appreciate the distinction you’re making between the letter and the spirit of the law (in your first comment) and criminal vs. behavioral/safety laws. I don’t have much in the way of response other than to say thanks for giving me a different perspective on the question. (A side note: b/c we’re in the electronic world, I don’t know how much of your 2nd comment was serious or sarcastic…some of the notes about the government seem way over the top if they were serious.)

      • Tim Bloedow May 24, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

        I have a libertarian streak, Jared, so probably a bit over the top, at least by some measures… 🙂

    • Ron May 29, 2012 at 8:19 am #

      “I would have no problem with breaking such a law.” Tim, that comment causes me some concern. I do not know you personally, but to make such a declaration seems almost arrogant. I would hope that is not the case, and am trusting that I am wrong. If you have children, would you be pleased with such a comment about you if they took offense at one of your rules of the home?

  7. Jared Olivetti May 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    I didn’t write in the post at first because I’m still not sure about the answer. I appreciate some of the arguments in the post and here in the comments.

    The one point I wanted to add/emphasize is the matter of the heart: a recent study in 1 Peter has reminded me that submission is at the very heart of Christianity. One of the things that marks us apart from the world is our glad submission to authority, even unjust authority–submission that we’re able to give because we know that God is on His throne and working all things for our good.

    Therefore, the more important question to me is whether or not we have hearts of submission toward those in authority over us, including our government. There is a difference between accidental speeding or keeping up with the flow of traffic and consistently speeding while harboring rebellion in our hearts against the government/police/etc.

  8. Jeff Kessler May 24, 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    Well Rich H. gets the award for the shortest answer.

    One point to add to the discussion: While I think I agree w/ James speed limits are partly for safety reasons, I think we should all face the fact they are also for revenue reasons. As Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote in a column on the woes of his home state of CA, it is much easier and more profitable for a cop to ticket a suburban house wife w/ a cell phone ($230) than to run down an illegal alien who dumps trash on personal property or steals copper wire from an irrigation pump. So, what does CHiP spend its time doing?

    What is the result: a growing dislike of normal, hardworking Americans for cops. People who would never think of stealing, murder, assault, etc. that get sick of hearing about traffic tickets, seat belt tickets, etc. I’ve sat in a local Subway and listened to a UPS driver, a Shwan’s ice cream truck driver, the local telephone repairman and the Subway owner all talking about this very thing. I’ve also heard conversation on talk radio. Law enforcement (and all of us) should be concerned about this growing dislike of their profession.

    • timbloedow May 24, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

      Yup, they’re not doing themselves any favours. Also read the outrageous civil forfeiture and proceeds of crime stories that I get regularly from Gary North’s daily news summary email. A Biblical model of lesser magistrates is very important here to avoid unbiblical vigilante behaviour as the recourse. In America, your local sherrifs have powerful authority if they would use it – and a handful are – against federal officials. If we truly believe in some form of sphere sovereignty, as we should, then we can’t be operational centralists who say that there is lawful recourse against tyrannical parental authority and there is lawful recourse against unbiblical ecclesiastical authority but there is no lawful recourse against lawless civil authority. However we work it out, we have to reject fundamentally the notion that there is no Biblically lawful recourse against unbiblical civil authority. I understand – correct me if I’m wrong – that there were some divisions among the Reformers with some like Calvin arguing only that other magistrates, even lesser magistrates, could Biblically resist higher magistrates, but that John Knox in our own Presbyterian tradition went further, arguing that heads of homes (family government) could lawfully resist tyrannical civil magistracy.

  9. Jeff Kessler May 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2011/08/30/20110830florida-speed-trap-lawsuit.html

    make sure you watch the video.

  10. Austin Brown May 24, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

    I’ll throw my hat into the ring.

    Naturally, as Christians we are called to honor the king, which of course includes lawful obedience to the laws of the land. One will observe, however, among these laws, degrees of severity of punishment, as well as degrees of precision. If a policeman purposely overlooked a crime like murder, he would face severe consequences. And yet, that same policeman can and often does overlook minor societal infractions, like going 56 in a 55.

    Why is that?

    One might say that such infractions are too minor. Perhaps so. I tend to think of it along different lines, however. If certain laws are given for the ordering and safety of society, like the speed limit, then it represents a sphere of safety. The government isn’t thinking in terms of absolute precision. This is (partly) why cops aren’t pulling over people who are going 56 in a 55.

    But let’s consider the other side of the coin. Suppose it was a sin to go one MPH over the speed limit. Consider the following:

    1). Try it sometime. I did this past week. Don’t go one MPH over the speed limit. To do so requires tremendous attention. You spend so much time watching the speedometer, it isn’t safe! How ironic! And really, if it is sin, like deserving of hell, then we would go about 20 MPH below the speed limit to be safe. That’s clearly not the intention of our driving laws.

    2). Since we’re talking about absolute precision, consider the shifting nature of the speed limit. When does the next change in permissible speeds snap into place? Is it when you see the sign? Is it when you are parallel with it? If it is sin to mess up in the slightest, we need to know exactly where the speed limit changes. Now consider all the other driving laws: Turn signal distances, full stops at stop signs, spacing between vehicles, etc. If you are trying to perfectly keep every single rule, good luck. Try it. It’s maddening.
    It’s wrong to drive with a headlight out. So do we fall into sin if it goes out while we’re driving!?! Ah!

    3). Consider the conscience of the church. When was the last time the church publicly felt compelled to confess her minor driving “sins?” If it is sinful to go 36 in a 35, surely the Holy Spirit would convict His people. But I’m not aware of the church feeling the weight of this “sin.” And on a more personal note, my conscience feels perfectly at ease with the matter. I just haven’t felt compelled to confess my daily minor driving infractions. I, along with many of the rest of us (who aren’t speed demons, etc.), drive safely, but not with perfect precision. And that is surely what is good and right in God’s eyes.

    • Tim Bloedow May 24, 2012 at 5:32 pm #

      I dare say a more articulate or illustrative way of saying what I was trying to say. Much appreciated, Austin.

    • Little Cloud May 24, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

      Austin,

      Will do on the comments:

      1. It can be done pretty consistently if you pay attention and make an effort to obey the limit, though perhaps some specialized training I had in the past gives me an advantage. I’m not perfect, but if notice I have gone over I let up on the gas. My point is that we should make efforts to obey the law even if they are inconvenient. Ever wait for a long time at a red traffic light for no traffic, in the middle of a small town late at night? Ever start out on a 600 mile trip, knowing that if you increased the speed by 6 MPH you can shave off an hour or so on the total time? I have. But I feel convicted that I must obey the speed limit and I do my best. Cruise control is my friend. Willful disobedience to the laws of man is sin unless we are forced to violate God’s laws and choose to obey God.

      2. Speed limits change when you get to the sign (or, when established on the intended roadway and the sign passes a line normal to the direction of travel). (OK, I made up the last part). As to the last line about a headlight, it goes back to willful disobedience versus unintentional rule breaking. Since I seem to see things in very black and very white, driving with a headlight out is still breaking the law, whether intentional or not. But I won’t lose any sleep when I find out I’ve had a headlight out for a week.

      3. In my opinion, whether or not the church recognizes something as a sin does not always offer a solid defense. In the past, churches have excused abhorrent behavior and practices that today would receive almost universal scorn. Have you sought God’s guidance on this in your own life?

      Maybe I’m the only one here who has felt convicted after years of 5-10 over. Maybe I’ll drive with my hazard lights on. Oops, that’s against the law too unless below 45 MPH….

      • timbloedowim Bloedow May 25, 2012 at 12:10 am #

        I don’t think cruise control works very well on city streets.

        I still think binding ourselves more stringently to the law than those responsible for administering it is idolatry to the state rather than required obedience to the civil magistrate.

        One benefit of fastidious compliance with all the laws on the books is that it would immediately reveal to us in a dramatic fashion just how outrageously totalitarian our civil magistrates are, and we would rapidly initiate dramatic rolling back on the power and role of the CM, with a Biblically lawful lesser magistrate revolution/reformation if necessary because it would simply be impossible to live in such a context without perpetually being reminded of one’s enslavement.

        Private ownership of property is a Biblical principle, so when a CM bans pesticide use on my property, but I know that pesticide use is the best and most economical way to maintain an appropriate aesthetic appearance of my lawn and garden as well as keeping disease-carrying insects away, or whatever, then this imposition by the CM violates my responsibility to exercise my judgment in my Biblically lawful sphere of authority. Hence, I will ignore that law as overstepping the CM’s lawful sphere of authority and undermining my ability to work out my salvation in time and space. (Or I’ll comply with the law only out of fear of getting caught and fined, not because I think I’m obligated to.)

        Salvation and the Gospel are not simply justification or life insurance. It’s about Kingdom living in history. It’s about living out Biblical worldview – a fully-orbed distinctlvely Christian life. Hence, I think the modern parameters typically given for civil disobedience are reductionistic and rather inadequate, where it’s limited only to cases where the state explicitly bans obedience to more familiar examples of God’s law and to preaching the Gospel and where the CM requires action like worshiping a statue or getting an abortion that is explicitly forbidden.

        Interference with my property rights would probably be considered illegitimate justification for disobeying the CM by most people because it’s a “down-river” application which lacks consensus within our weak modern western church even though it relates to theft and idolatry (by the CM interposing itself on the lawful jurisdiction of a family head).

        All this to say that there are lots of laws that Christians today should not feel guilty about breaking, including traffic or driving laws such as speed limits, if they are making responsible judgments regarding safety and their own capabilities. It might not be in Scripture, but I’ve always likes Clint Eastwood’s proverbial wisdom: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”…

  11. Jeff Kessler May 25, 2012 at 8:34 am #

    Little Cloud: Do you insist on driving the speed limit in heavy traffic which is flowing at 5-10 mph over the posted speed? If so, I’ll submit you are a danger to all other traffic around you.

    • Little Cloud May 25, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

      Jeff,

      Yes, I do.

      If other drivers in heavy traffic are 5-10 MPH over the limit there is no reason they cannot safely maneuver around me unless they are driving beyond their “limitations” and my driving is not the issue. I used to commute daily in notoriously bad traffic and aggressive drivers. I’ve never been in an automobile accident and have never caused one (as far as I know). So, statistically speaking, the data does not indicate I am any more hazardous than another driver.

      Final thought: what would you think if your pastor suggested that normally breaking a civil law (e.g. a speed limit) was acceptable?

      Little Cloud signing off, I’ve hit my self-imposed three comment limit.

      • Jeff Kessler May 26, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

        L.C. I do not know who you are. I have no intention of offending you. Let me try it this way.

        The shorter catechism teaches a positive requirement to negative commands. So we are to not murder. We are to preserve human life. In my opinion, I obey this command by staying with the flow of traffic and not worrying about the posted speed. You obviously disagree. That is OK.

        As for your final thought question…if I answer one way, I’ll not be happy with my answer and the other will take more time than I want to spend on this.

  12. stillbelievin June 4, 2012 at 9:49 am #

    The Law of the road is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” A speed limit is merely a rule, as are all government-imposed “laws” not delegated from God Himself.

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