Of First Importance

This post was first published in the Cook County News-Herald April 6, 2019 as the Spiritual Reflections column.

Nashville has become the new Chicago. Each time we drive from Grand Marais to my father-in-law’s home in northern Alabama, near Huntsville, my wife has two consistent requests. The first is that we stop in Bloomington, IL for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. The second, more urgent, non-negotiable request: avoid driving through Chicago.

Ten years ago, we drove through Chicago. I call it driving. I was behind the wheel of the van propelling it forward with my foot on the accelerator, guiding the movement with the steering wheel. Linda called it a nightmare game of “Dodge Car.” Given that she spent nearly the entire journey through the center of the city with her eyes screwed shut, holding her breath, and clenching her fists so tightly her nails made indentations in her palms, I can’t imagine how she even knew there were other cars around us.

Interstate 65 through Nashville has taken on the characteristics of a high-speed chase through Chicago, at Christmas, during rush hour, with Godzilla wreaking havoc and everyone and their brother trying to get out of his way! I’m surprised Linda hasn’t worn a hole through the floor of the car slamming on her imaginary brakes every time someone suddenly, without warning pulls in front of us at high speed and then steps heavy on the brakes to avoid the car stopping in front of them equally without warning. Drivers in Nashville seem to have lost their sense of “personal space.”

Such was the case a few weeks ago. We managed to avoid Nashville on the way down thanks to a detour due to road construction on I-24. On the return trip, we were not so fortunate. The traffic was horrendous. Six lanes each direction and no one content to stay where they were. You’ve heard of “controlled chaos”? This was “barely controlled chaos.”

A newer model black Cadillac Escalade passed us on the right, then pulled in front of us, then continued at high speed to the left of the car in front of us and back to the far right lane after passing a third car on the left. There were thousands of us on the road at that moment. None of use were doing much less than the speed limit. None of us. The Escalade passed us all. Easily. Speedily. Boldly.

I lost sight of the Escalade after the maneuver that carried the vehicle to the far right lane toward an exit up ahead. There was too much traffic and too many drivers trying to follow their lead to focus on any one vehicle for very long. A mile later we came to the exit. I saw the Escalade again, its rear end accordioned against the concrete wall that protects the neighborhood on the other side from the sounds of life, and death, on the highway.

Several people were gathered around what was left of the driver’s side rear passenger door. It was now facing the direction back down the highway from which the Escalade had come. Hands were held to faces. Arms flailed in helpless frustration. Clearly someone was trapped in the ruined rear seat. As I slowed with the rest of traffic, now in the lane nearest the off ramp, I could make out a form still in the car, not moving. A woman on her knees nearby, screaming, gave witness to the tragedy unfolding there on the side of the road.

There was nothing we could do and waiting or slowing would only have hindered the approach of those who could help, though, it appeared, there was no one who could help at least one of the passengers that day. We moved along with the rest of the cars around us, slower at first, but picking up speed as we moved further from the heartbreak behind us. Soon the mass of highway metal rocketed away, projectiles carrying their fragile occupants to destinations near and far, away from the pain of someone else’s nightmare.

We should have known better. Human life has a 100% mortality rate. It is never a matter of “if” but of “when.” And since not a one of us knows “when” we do well to be ready for “whenever.” I thought of the apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church as I pulled away from the accident scene that day. He wrote,

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (ESV).)

It is unlikely that those poor people suffering beside the road that day cared much about the Mueller report in that moment. It probably didn’t matter what their political, social, or educational preferences were. It is most likely their thoughts were on bigger things, eternal things, things the apostle might well have labeled “of first importance,” life and death things.

Of all the things a human being can know in life, of all the important issues and ideas to which we many give our attention and effort, of first importance, of greatest importance are the actions God takes to extend mercy and forgiveness to those He loves whose sins separate them from Him. God, in love for you, sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross, to suffer the pain of death in your place, so that through faith in Him you can find forgiveness of sin and peace with God.

Throughout these next four weeks of April, in anticipation of Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we propose to share with you these things of first importance because death comes for all of us and it behooves us all to be ready.

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