I watched it happen in slow motion. I was coming out of a gas station close to home, in a spot where the rush hour traffic bottlenecks from two lanes down to one. A police car was conspicuously trying to wend its way through the mess. I thought about pulling in front… then just let that cruiser go by. Sure enough, a minute later, that cop car had the flashers on, for the guy directly in front of him. I am not really sure what legal infraction that poor sucker had committed, but I am sure it was simply enough to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It could have been me. I think of cops when I see the Harry Potter movies. Don’t stand in front of a dementor. Their job is to suck your soul out. If you have an ounce of sense, you will avoid them. And so it is that when driving, I have one paranoid eye cast backward, ever looking for the telltale silhouette of a large black Ford Explorer, just in case.
I am an anarchist at heart. I have a complicated relationship with the law. Having been burnt like most people more than a few times, I tend to keep my distance when I see police on the road. It’s not the sting of the ticket, it is the sneaking suspicion that the officer is just enjoying the process way too much. You get that same sense when a cop car follows you for a few kilometres and changes lanes when you do, sticking on your tail. When he finally veers off on some real business, you are relieved but feeling somewhat like an aggrieved citizen nonetheless.
I remember once long ago, Harold, a co-worker, raged that his van had been stolen. Turns out he was right. It had been stolen, by the cops. When we went to retrieve his van from the impound lot, the place was stocked top to bottom with bearded and bandanna-clad Hell’s Angels bikers. They provide a ‘service’ for the cops. A little muscle here and there. When Harold paid the exorbitant fine, cursing the whole while, he looked at the ticket. His infraction, being 8 cm away from the curb. It literally could justify towing half the cars from the road at any given time. It must be a seriously lucrative racket, and entirely legal. Hundreds and thousands of dollars. The law allows it, moreover the law insists upon it. They see it as necessary revenue for the municipality.
If you have ever gone to court to fight what you thought was basically entrapment, maybe a parking ticket where the signs were ambiguous, you might come away shocked at the power of the state to prosecute you for that offence. They see you as a criminal. A coterie of well-paid lawyers will show up representing the Crown. If you are really unlucky, the bullet-headed cop will show up and testify against you. Mine did. He appeared very happy to have the day off to do a bit of paper work. He identified me from the witness box, as the suspect. He then started to read from his notes. “At approximately 5:30 PM I observed the accused on a bicycle proceeding northward on Jarvis Street….” It sounded like he was describing the preamble to a murder, not me proceeding through a yellow light. To make matter worse, the cross examination will ride roughshod over your objections. They have you where they want, on the wrong side of the law.
If you are like me, you see your own situation in a different light. There are technicalities that make ‘guilty’ sound like a heavy word indeed. You start to look at the cops and wonder if they go home and yell at their wives and kick their dogs. You in fact, feel very innocent. Like the quote from Oliver Twist, the law is an ass. Jesus himself had similar words for the Pharisees of his time. He criticized them for tithing even with household herbs, while behind the scenes, devouring widows houses and burdening the people with limpossible rules. He told them they were straining at gnats while swallowing camels.
The law is not your friend. It is the specialty of our adversary the Devil. He stands day and night before the throne of God, accusing the saints. He begs permission as he did with the apostles, to sift us like wheat. He is on the side of the law, prosecuting infractions with the best of them.
There is no way you can win this battle, in terms of the law. There has to be something else in the picture. Mercy, sometimes described as not getting the punishment we deserve. Even more, grace, which is unsolicited kindness extended to those who do not merit any special favour.
I like the sound of grace. I smile whenever I see that word in the Bible. It is the perfect ballast for the law. Jesus imputes to us, his own righteousness in exchange for our guilty verdict. Paul tells us in one of his wonderful syllogisms, that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” It is not simply NOT being held to account. It is to be accorded the righteousness of Christ himself. It is a deal breaker and a life changer.
Yes, while the law can stop many things, it cannot change the human heart the way that grace can. The third book of Philippians expresses it like this. “...whatever was an asset to me I count as loss for the sake of Christ... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ....”
Imputed a righteousness that is not my own, apart from the law. It sounds like a plea bargain to me. One that could make you weep for joy.
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