I try to drive within the speed limit as far as possible, but often I give myself four to five miles per hour over posted speed limits. Although I’d never been cited, none of that mattered the day I left a meeting at Camp Au Sable in Grayling, Michigan.
The roads in that part of Michigan are straight and traffic is often light. This particular Sunday afternoon, after a successful meeting, I was enjoying my drive so much that I forgot about the speed limit. I had just passed two semis when I saw a patrol car parked on the side of the road.
The trooper would have seen me from miles away, but I reduced my speed and drove below the speed limit. But sure enough, two minutes later I saw flashing lights in my rearview mirror and a car rapidly approaching. As the trooper’s car drew near I slowed down, put on my hazard lights, and carefully pulled to the shoulder.
A Revealing Conversation
Stepping out of his car, the officer asked to see my driver’s license and evidence of registration. “You seem to be in a hurry,” he said. “Where are you going, sir?”
“Sir, I’m on my way to MSU (Michigan State University),” I answered.
“Nice school,” he replied nonchalantly.
“The best, sir.” I didn’t know whether he was a MSU Spartan or a Wolverine from the University of Michigan—a rival of the Spartans, but I had a 50 percent chance of getting it right.
“I detect an accent,” he remarked.
That statement sounded like the last nail in my traffic coffin. I’d heard horror stories concerning foreigners and law enforcement officers. I wanted to melt. Why couldn’t we stick to universities? I thought. Accents are too personal.
“Yes, sir, I’m from Zambia, in south-central Africa,” I responded.
“What, then, are you doing in Michigan?”
“I’m a teaching assistant at MSU,” I replied. “I’m doing my postgraduate studies.”
As our conversation continued I wondered, Why doesn’t he just give me a ticket and let me go? If he told me I was driving 70 in a 55-mph zone I’d believe him. I wasn’t watching my speedometer at the time of the infraction. I wanted him to just do his duty and give me a ticket. I was ready for it.
He leaned into the window with the inevitable question: “Sir, do you know why I stopped you?”
“No, sir,” I said innocently, “but I guess you feel I was speeding.”
“No, sir, I don’t feel you were speeding. I know you were speeding. Do you know the speed limit in this part of the country?”
I answered “55 miles per hour,” and he responded, “That’s right, sir. But you were driving faster than that—much faster. Sir, did you realize you were speeding?”
A bright idea crossed my mind. “Sir, I sped up because I wanted to pass the two semis in front of me. I hate driving behind large vehicles because I like to see where I’m going.”
“All right. Tell me, how many points do you have on your driver’s license?”
“None, as in zero?” he asked. “Have you ever had a traffic citation?”
“Never, sir; none as in zero. You are the first officer to stop me since I started driving.”
He looked at me in disbelief. He glanced at my driver’s license and left. While he was away I started thinking. I had just come from a successful church meeting and there I was trying to create excuses when I didn’t even know at what speed I was driving. I knew it wasn’t ridiculously high, but the officer must have had a reason to stop me. Then it occurred to me to apologize. Why didn’t I think of that sooner? When the officer returned I told him I was sorry for speeding and assured him I wouldn’t do it again.
He looked in both directions of the highway and said, “It is tempting, isn’t it? Welcome to Michigan, sir. I won’t give you a ticket. I won’t give you a written warning, either. Now, go your way and be careful, because my friends may not be this merciful.”
All Are Forgiven
I thought the trooper sounded a lot like Jesus when He advised people to “go and sin no more” (John 5:14; 8:11). I could have jumped for joy, but I tried to control my emotions as he handed my documents back. I thanked him and added, “Sir, have a nice day!”
When I had stashed the documents where they belonged and started the car, I remembered every instruction I ever learned during driving school. I was a “forgiven” traffic violator, yet still a “perfect” and “flawless” driver.
According to the Bible, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The good news is that Christ paid the penalty for our sins with His blood on Calvary. As the apostle Paul said: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9).
The officer did something else. Even now no record exists of that incident. Grace works the same way. When we accept His Son’s sacrifice and claim Christ as our Savior and Lord, God blots out the sins we have committed from our records and doesn’t remember them anymore. He casts “all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19).
After that encounter with the trooper I didn’t want to speed or otherwise break the law. Similarly, having been forgiven by Christ I have no license or liberty to break God’s law. But in the busy highways and freeways of life I can get sidetracked and do things that dishonor my Lord. I may even have excuses, as I did on that Michigan road. But even if I fall I know I “have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). In His infinite mercy God still justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies. He pardons me when I confess my sins and repent (1 John 1:9).
No sweeter word can fall on a sinner’s ears than “forgiven.”
D. Chongo Mundende is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma.