The 405 and Human Sinfulness

As a resident of Southern California, I have had the unfortunate experience of having to drive down the 405 freeway on multiple occasions. 

For those of you who don’t know, the 405 is one of the busiest freeways in Southern California. The 405 splits from the 5 in the Northern part of Los Angeles and runs down to Orange County, where it reconnects with the 5 freeway. 

This 72 mile stretch of freeway is awful. 

I have not had to travel the 405 very often, but every single time I do, it is a terrible experience. Something I learned about this awful stretch of freeway, is that there is an ongoing joke amongst Southern Californias that its name, the 405, is because you only go between 4 and 5 miles per hour. 

Convinced that it was merely a joke, my naivety was soon confronted with the disturbing reality that it is, indeed, not something to laugh at. 

My younger brother graduated from UCLA not too long ago, and when he graduated, my family went down to help him move out of the apartment that he was living in. We had gotten an AirBnB in Buena Park to stay for his graduation. We decided that it would be prudent to pick him and his stuff up from UCLA around 2PM on a Thursday. Lo and behold, it was probably one of the worst decisions my family has ever made. 

From UCLA to Buena Park is 40 miles. It took 3 hours to complete our journey. 3. Hours. 

The 405 is an awful freeway. 

So what does this have to do with human sinfulness? Great question. 

This is an idea that I have had for some time. My recent experience on the 405 finally gave me the best metaphor to describe the thought that has been brewing. 

Here’s the thought; human sinfulness can be boiled down to the pursuit of self as opposed to the pursuit of others. 

What I mean is that all human sinfulness is about turning away from God and seeking after your own self interest and neglecting to care for and seek the good for others. =

Let’s take the Ten Commandments as our first example. Six of the ten commands are seeking after the welfare of others. Honor your father and mother (#5), do not murder (#6), do not commit adultery (#7), to not steal (#8), do not bear false witness (#9) and do not covet your neighbor’s possessions (#10) are all others oriented. 

These commands are enacted in response to the devastation that human sin had brought to the interpersonal relationships of humanity. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit in Genesis 3, it was done so with the presumption that “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (v. 5) The way the serpent tempted them was with the promise that they would be like God. The serpent played into the false promise of individually focused prosperity. 

In other words, the fundamental lie the serpent used to trick Adam and Eve was that God was holding out on them and they could do something about it. If they only focused on themselves, then they would be like God. 

When we believe that God is holding out, then we start to think that the only way to truly take care of ourselves is to focus entirely on our own individual happiness and welfare. We neglect caring for others and begin to see their welfare and our happiness as mutually exclusive. It creates an atmosphere of self-focus that leads to suspicion of others’ motivation. 

It is toxic. 

So how does that relate to the 405? 

The fundamental problem with the 405 is that it is constantly bogged down in traffic. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, there will always be some part that is snarled in traffic. But I think traffic on the 405 (and any other freeway for that matter) is indicative of human sinfulness because traffic itself is caused by individuals who have come under the belief that their time, their destination, their agenda is more important than anyone else on the road. 

Studies have shown that traffic can be caused by one single car that is weaving/speeding on a freeway. The ripple effect of ones decision to drive recklessly has unforeseen repercussions that can stall a freeway for hours and miles at a time. 

It boils down to being self-focused. 

Self focus tells us that our time is more important than others. The only way to get to the place we are going is to make sure that you are going faster than the other people on the freeway. They are the ones holding you up. They are responsible for your misery. It is their fault. If you take that mentality and multiply it by the thousands of drivers on the road, is it any surprise that traffic is the byproduct? 

Merging is another way of seeing human sinfulness at work. Merging on and off the freeway is an example of something that creates headaches for everyone. People are slowing down to get off the freeway, while others are speeding up to try and move to a faster lane. You have people who have waited until the last second to swerve over and exit. You have people who refuse to let others get in front of them. There are a number of factors that make merging on and off the freeway a nightmare for most drivers. 

What they all have in common is that everyone is self-focused. Imagine for a second what would happen if drivers would become others-focused. Instead of having to fight your way on and off the freeway, you would simply glide in and out of the space provided by others. Instead of cars swerving over at the last second, you’d have people who patiently allow others to merge into the exit lane with enough time to exit. Instead of people speeding up and dangerously changing lanes to be in a “faster” one, you’d have drivers safely getting up to speed on the freeway and making their lane changes. 

I would go as far to argue that if everyone were others-focused, it would eliminate traffic for good. But again, human sinfulness is present in our everyday realities. And the unfortunate truth is that we are never going to experience a reality where everyone is radically others-focused this side of glory. There have been a few times where a kind person has let me merge onto the 405 in front of them, but they are just a small taste of sweetness in what otherwise is a cauldron of bitterness. 

Human sinfulness is caused by us being self-focused. When we turn the focus and attention on ourselves, then we ultimately neglect caring for those around us. When it becomes about our happiness, our pursuits, our flourishing, then we believe the lie that God is holding out on us and that they only way to truly experience the fullness of life is to take it for ourselves. 

That promise, however, only leads to bitterness, disappointment and disillusionment with the world around us. 

All this to say, I still hate the 405 freeway, but I now know that it has much more to do with the brokenness of humanity than it does my time or agenda. Traffic is a byproduct of brokenness because it comes from a self-focused perspective. As with all sin, it stems from thinking that the I is more important than the us. 

Jesus calls his followers to be radically others-focused. What that means is that if we are followers of Jesus, our lives are going to be radically different than the world around us. The way we care for people, the way we put others before ourselves, the way we allow people to merge on and off the freeway. All these things will define us as followers of Christ. 

– J