But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
-- Matthew 5:22
Comedian George Carlin once observed that an "idiot" is anyone on the highway who's driving slower than you. A "maniac," on the other hand, is anyone who passes you in traffic.
Although Carlin's commentary was definitely tongue-in-cheek, many people actually act out these same perceptions through road rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines road rage as an assault with a motor vehicle or other dangerous weapon by the operator or passenger(s) of another motor vehicle, or an assault precipitated by an incident that occurred on a roadway.
Road rage experts say the most obvious form of this criminal offense is aggressive and excessive speeding--particularly on congested highways or in bad weather. Causes include increased congestion on the roadways, running late (too many obligations), increased levels of intra- and interpersonal stress, plus the need to "save face" and overcome feelings of being disrespected by another driver. Most telling, however, is that the NHTSA also identifies chronic or pathological anger as a leading cause of this disturbing phenomenon.
Maybe that's not too surprising. After all, anger is one of mankind's earliest and strongest emotions. And it revealed itself within the first few chapters of the Bible in the form of the world's first murder.
We couldn't control our anger back then in quiet, agrarian settings and we still can't today on our traffic-snarled highways. But Christ-followers are held to much higher standards. In fact, gentleness is one flavor of the Fruit of the Spirit that proves God is living through us. With this in mind, note that gentleness isn't another word for wimpiness. Jesus was gentle--but He was hardly a wimp. Instead, biblical gentleness is the transformation of our innate anger into the power to do God's will in the world. Gentleness is therefore power focused on the positive.
If you're a Christ-follower who's still a bit of a road warrior, take heart. The transformation from our old self into a new creation is a work in progress that's on God's timetable. It's a change that takes place bit by bit and day after day along that faith journey we hear so much about. But the problem is that the journey's pathway is narrow, twisting and full of unexpected hairpin turns. And when we don't keep our eyes on the final destination, we tend to end up in the ditch.
Jesus told his disciples to expect bumps and potholes in the road. "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come," he explained. "But woe to that person through whom they come."
Road rage is more than a crime: it's a sin. But the good news is that we're free from sin's power and don't have to accept its dominance in our lives. It comes down to our ultimate trust and dependence on Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. So when we slip up and give in to temptation and bad habits on the highway--or just about anywhere else for that matter--we can freely ask for help from the One who has already paid the ultimate price for all of our mistakes: past, present and future.
With that in mind, let's take singer Carrie Underwood's advice and let Jesus take the wheel.
"Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart," invites the Savior, "and you will find rest for your souls."