How to ruin a brand new car in less than 24 hours and still give thanks

The jarring jolt unleashed a flood of adrenaline through my veins. A stunned silence follows the moment of impact. In disbelief, I look down at the bright blue “R” glowing in the dark under my right hand. After shifting the car into park, the silence is broken by my sisters’ wild yelling, “Why did you accelerate?! What did you do?!”

My mind can barely process their questions as I slowly open the door and walk around the back of the car to see the damage: a broken taillight, a popped bumper with scuff marks and a circular bump the size of a nail-head protruding through the metal, and two ugly grooves scratched into its upper edge. The bitter cold numbs my nerves so much it makes everything feel doubly surreal.

I had managed to ruin my brand new car in less than 24 hours.

In the darkness, my blank mind slowly reconstructed what happened. The car was parked facing up an incline. A violent, icy breeze made me eager to hurry home. The moment we were all buckled in, I immediately switched gears and let go of the brake. The car started rolling backwards and since I was on an incline, I pushed the gas. Big mistake. I had put the car in reverse and sent 200 ponies charging into the car behind me. How could I be so stupid?

Distressed, I asked my sister to drive the rest of the way home, the events of my mistake replaying over and over again like a scratched DVD. I still wince every time I visualize the damage to my brand new car and avoid looking at the symbolic shard of plastic from my taillight. The car was so perfect, a source of great delight and I had ruined it in a single moment of folly. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wish could simply wake up from the nightmare. Was there no way to undo my mistake?

That night I lay in bed engulfed in feelings of disbelief and regret. Did I really damage my brand new car? It seemed too ironic to be true—the stuff of sitcoms and dramas, but real life? I felt a deep sorrow at my own stupidity and the fact there was no way around it. I was at fault and that was that. It was so humbling: all the late nights spent researching the best car and the best deal and all the time spent negotiating a great price and getting the right color were undone in a split-second of complacency. All my efforts and merits did not matter; God reigns over all and I was utterly at his mercy.

Earlier that day, I had just said that Christ is more precious than cars. I talked about how sad it was that I am more easily excited and passionate about my new car than I am about Jesus and that I and everyone who shared my sentiments ought to repent of idolatry. Now my claim was being put to the test. I could imagine Satan bringing accusations against me like he did against Job, “Of course Chris would say that Christ is more precious than cars—you just blessed him with a beautiful, brand new one. Damage it and watch how he responds.” As much as I wanted to pass the test and prove that I love Jesus more than the new car, my muddy mind could not figure out how to glorify God through the situation beyond a token thanksgiving for safety.

Having hit a proverbial wall, I read Revelation chapter 2 before going to bed and was stunned by the piercing words, “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Look how far you have fallen!” It was so true. There was a time several years ago when I had an irrepressible desire and passion for God. I gobbled up Scriptures, sermons and theological books like teenage boys at a Thanksgiving banquet. I longed for sweet times of prayer like snow-stranded commuters long to be home. I was enthralled that God accepts and loves me just as I am, apart from anything I have ever done—that I cannot impress him and do not need to impress him, but that in his great love he already gave Jesus to die for me and save me. In those days, Jesus was so dear to me that I actively sought out opportunities to tell others about him. I was zealous to obey him and fought hard against sinful desires that obstructed my holy pleasure in God. I felt full of grace and ready to listen to others and pray for others and help others.

As I pondered the past that night, I felt even more sorrowful than I did over my damaged car. Where did my compassion and boldness go? Was it killed by the scorn I suffered for telling people about Jesus? Was it choked by my personal failures that seemed to undermine the good news I once believed with deepest conviction? I had become so fearful to speak up, keeping silent on nearly everything, but the safest and most mundane topics. My former joy and peace gave way to stress and anxiety. Old familiar sins returned to haunt my life. Where I once felt a blazing passion for Christ, I now had a faintly burning candlewick, gently dying of ennui. How could I return to the love for Jesus that I had at first?

While agonizing over this question, an image came to mind of trading in my damaged car and receiving a brand new one in return. You can imagine how happy I was to entertain this idea—such a dealer would be getting a lot of referrals from me! Nonetheless, my crude initial interpretation soon gave way to a more marvelous perspective, that the new car symbolized the righteousness of Christ: spotless, gloriously perfect and beautiful, more precious than anything in the world. Jesus trades his pristine, mint condition righteousness for my sinful mess and pays for the damages I caused (2 Cor 5:21). He lets me enjoy the benefits of his doing everything right, while he covers the cost of my wrongdoings. He suffers the judgment against me on the Cross, being brutally executed for my sins so I can receive the reward of his righteousness: eternal life.

Amazing. Timely. What else could endear Christ to my fallen heart, but this reminder of the gospel? What else could be more fitting for Thanksgiving? God restored what I ruined; he turned my stupid, embarrassing mistake into a stunning reminder of his grace. Praying he will do the same for you today.

Glory be to the sovereign God who uses fender benders to manifest his splendors.

“O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, his love endures forever” Amen.