A TRUE Short Story about Nothing...
It was about 9:30PM and the speedometer on my Tundra traveled west as I slowed down approaching the Route 146 off ramp for Central Turnpike. As I approached the end of the ramp I observed that the vehicle before me maneuvered carefully around an inconvenient obstacle and exited the highway. That obstacle was a car. Inside the car was a man. I wondered about the wisdom and propriety of his chosen place to park. Then I noticed his flashing emergency lights. As I pulled up along the unfortunate fellow I rolled down my window. “Need a hand?” I said.
Before I go any further with my story you should probably be aware of the amusing absurdity of such an offer of help from me. I know almost nothing about cars. If this gentleman had pulled over because of a headache, and had paused to ponder the appropriate dosage of ibuprofen for his pain, then possibly I could be of assistance. If he was thumbing through his Bible looking for the book of Jonah I could probably offer my aid. But car trouble? Well, I suppose I could offer to call AAA.
Anyway, back to my story. As I leaned out the window into the starry night, he answered my inquiry with 5 words even a non-mechanic such as I could understand: “I ran out of gas.” Ugghh. Been there, done that. Poor guy. And unfortunately this exit had no service station for fuel. “Can I help?” I asked the stranded stranger. “It’s okay,” he replied, “I called a friend and he is bringing me some gas.” I offered to assist him get his vehicle to the side of the road. “Not necessary,” he said, “I’m a moose.” And as he exited the vehicle and began pushing his car he did in fact prove to be quite a sizeable fellow. “Alright” I responded and began to pull away as a number of cars were beginning to stack up behind me.
But as this stranger and his car grew smaller in my rear view mirror it suddenly occurred to me that his “friend” might be travelling from quite a distance to offer his aid. What if his “friend” was coming from Providence, Boston or Harford? Sure, he would get his gas, but only after a prolonged and possibly uncomfortable interval of time. I decided I would go home, grab our 5 gallon gas can, and return to help if he were still around. And so I did.
In less than 10 minutes me, my truck, and my gas can were returning to the site where I had left him. And there he was: still sitting, still waiting. I pulled over, grabbed the can, and approached my friend. As he exited the driver’s side of his car and approached me he exclaimed, very naturally and joyfully, “wow, you returned, what a blessing.” A blessing? Really? Not exactly the reaction I expected. So I responded that the Lord had blessed me very much and that it was a privilege to help him. “Oh, He’s blessed me too” the man replied. “That’s great,” I said “are you Christian?” “Why yes I am” he returned. And thus we began our conversation. We talked while his thirsty little vehicle drank down the 2 gallons of gas that my can had to offer. He told me about himself. He lost his vision in 1 eye a year ago while in an accident. He still suffered much discomfort and felt somewhat guilty about the continued need for pain killers. “I would rather just be healed by the Great Physician” he said. I reminded him that sometimes God gives healing…but sometimes God gives medicine instead. Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” came to mind.
As the gas can emptied this stranger and friend invited me to a men’s meeting at his church on Saturday. And while I explained that I had to work my words were suddenly surrounded by flashings of light. Beams of blues and reds bathed the landscape. A police officer had arrived. It suddenly occurred to me that any further roadside fellowship was probably finished. “Do you need anything else” I asked. “No” he said “and thanks.” The encounter was over. The moonlight and cool silence of the evening escorted me peacefully across the ramp and toward my truck. But while I was walking back a commanding voice from within the cruiser sliced through the evening air. “You know” came to authoritative and arid announcement “that’s why they put gas gauges in cars!” The Law had spoken: cold, harsh, merciless and true. With those unsympathetic words still echoing in my mind, I drove home.
Later I thought about the incident. I felt bad for my friend, whose name I never even obtained, who struggles with pain and was blind in one eye. But I think I felt worse for the officer. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Maybe his last interaction was still weighing heavily on his mind. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me this public servant was actually, for that moment, more blind than the other. He was blinder because he could only see an inconvenience, not an opportunity. He was blinder because he seemed to only see faults and failure, not faces and their frustrations. Sure, he was doing his job. And that is all he was doing. I wonder how many times I have done the same. Probably far more often than I care to admit. I think there is likely to be something of that officer’s comment in all our hearts.
What about the Law of God? There is something, on the surface of it, cold and harsh as well. God’s standard is holiness, perfection and righteousness. My life is unholy, imperfect and defiled. God does not lower His standard for sinners like me. My best efforts are stained with sin. “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” the prophet said (Isaiah 64:6). The preacher in Ecclesiastes summed up human nature quite well: "For there is not a just man on earth who does good And does not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20).”
So then what is my only hope? John puts it this way: "For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." We are all, spiritually speaking, out of gas. We are all dead on the side of the road; hopeless and helpless. And then He came. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." But Christ didn’t come with a can of gas. He came to bring us a whole new car. That old car won’t do. It will run out of gas again and again. Dear reader, stop trying to fill your old car with the gas of good works and religious tradition. What you need, what I need, is not more fuel…but merciful forgiveness. And this is offered to you in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone.
And so that is my story. It is true. Maybe it is a story about nothing. Maybe it is a story about everything. I suppose it all depends on what you chose to do with it. What will you do?