My wife and I spend a decent amount of time on the road. Our busiest time of the year tends to be in November and early December as we travel for district quizzes, tournaments in Kalamazoo, St. Louis and whenever possible Kansas City. Throw in a trip to see my parents in Tennessee for Thanksgiving and you’ve got a lot of miles logged. This past weekend we returned from a weeklong trip to Tennessee where we visited with my parents and officiated for the big end of the year tournament for teen bible quizzing. I do a majority of the driving while Lori sleeps or crochets and so I’m the one having to navigate through traffic and construction zones. Since I have a tendency to speed I usually have to change lanes as I pass slower traffic and in order to do that safely I need my rearview mirror. I consistently use my rearview mirror well in advance of actually changing lanes because I pay attention to traffic that is catching up to me (which rarely happens) or I check to see if that cop I didn’t see early enough is going to let me continue on my way (which always happens). My rearview mirror is a part of how I navigate my way down the road and around obstacles.
What I read in Romans reminds me of my driving experiences. As I transition from a quiz year focused on Romans and James to a year focusing on Acts I want to close out the year with some thoughts on a popular passage in Romans.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.—Romans 12:1-2
The first eleven chapters of Romans paint a pretty clear picture of our human situation. We are sinners, each and every one of us, and the penalty of that sin is death. Our part of the picture doesn’t look good at all but despite our ugliness it isn’t the whole picture. The rest of the picture involves God the Father’s work in and through his Son on our behalf. Our lives (our part of the picture) get united with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection in such a way that we ourselves experience death, burial and resurrection. It is with this picture in mind that Paul wants us to keep ‘God’s mercy in view’.
What does it mean to keep ‘God’s mercy in view’? It’s much like what we experience with our rearview mirror. Our rearview mirror takes what is behind us and places it before us as a helpful guide. When Paul writes his letters to various churches there are many times that he is reminding them of very important things. In this passage, Paul is in essence trying to be their rearview mirror. He wants to remind them of what God did in Christ on their behalf and that what God did was merciful. Full of mercy. And by keeping this past act of mercy in view, Paul is confident that it will have a direct impact on the way in which his readers will live in their present. God’s offering of his Son and the Son’s offering of his life lead to our offering of ourselves.
What have you got in your rearview mirror? Maybe you have some regrets, missed opportunities or burned bridges. One thing to note about rearview mirrors is that it’s never healthy to solely look at them. You need to be looking ahead a majority of time. Imagine the kind of destruction that would be caused by driving a vehicle while looking only in the rearview mirror! Nothing good would come from that. Rearview mirrors are intended to help you as you move forward and make decisions in the here and now. Spending an inordinate amount of time looking into the negative experiences of the past is not going to help you as you move forward. There are definitely lessons to be learned from our past but we should be careful about how we approach those sorts of things in our rearview mirror. Paul wants the work of Christ and the mercy of God the Father in our past to be front and center in our lives today.
When it comes to our Christian walk, how can mercy in our rearview mirror help us? When we forget that we have been recipients of mercy we forget to be merciful. Along those same lines, when we forget that we have been forgiven we forget to forgive. When we forget that we are loved as God’s beloved children we forget to love other’s as God’s beloved children. What if we looked in our spiritual rearview mirror before we approached our spouse? Our children? Our co-workers? Our enemies? My bet is that if we consciously and consistently remembered the mercy of God when we were at our worst then we would love others with the kind of love lavished on us. That kind of love will always stand out in this world because it goes against the way our world operates. Who loves their enemies? Who shows mercy to the rightfully convicted? Who dies for the ungodly? God does. That’s who. And you should too.