What would we do with all His power and all His grace?
One of the most thought-provoking allegorical pieces I have read lately is a short story by Israeli writer Etgar Keret. In “The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God,”1 Keret tells about a bus driver “who would never open the door of the bus for people who were late.” As it turns out, it was not that the bus driver was mean; it was because he was fair. If he had to wait for one passenger, the bus driver reasoned, the rest of the passengers who had arrived on time would suffer. The driver’s sense of justice would prevent him from acquiescing, even to “little old ladies with brown paper bags full of groceries who struggled to flag him down with trembling hands.”
But the one most affected by the bus driver’s intransigent sense of fairness was Eddie, a man who was always late and who had lost all kinds of things in life because of it. One day, at his job, Eddie met a girl named Happiness, and somehow, she accepted his invitation to meet a day later to chat at a park.
The following day, Eddie made his best effort not to miss the bus, but sure enough, as he was running to the stop, he saw the bus pulling away. Fortunately for Eddie, the first traffic light one hundred yards after the stop turned red just in time, and the bus stopped. Eddie ran as fast as he could, even though he knew he didn’t have a chance. “He didn’t even bang on the glass, he was so weak. He just looked at the driver with moist eyes, and fell to his knees, panting and wheezing.”
At that moment, the story goes, the bus driver remembered that a long time before becoming a driver, he had wanted to be God. Since he was not able to become God, he had settled on being a bus driver. “And suddenly the driver remembered how he’d once promised himself that if he became God in the end, he’d be merciful and kind, and would listen to all His creatures.” It was the reason why, despite the driver’s unflinching sense of justice, he couldn’t leave without opening the door for Eddie. So he let Eddie in.
As it turned out, the date was unsuccessful. Happiness revealed to Eddie that she was already engaged. On his way back to the bus stop, exhausted and sad, Eddie saw the bus already at the bus stop. It was too late, even for running. Besides, he had no strength left whatsoever. However, when crestfallen Eddie finally made it to the bus stop, he found out that the bus was still there, waiting for him. “And even though the passengers were shouting and grumbling to get a move on, the driver waited for Eddie.”
The story ends as intriguingly as it began. “When they started moving, [the bus driver] gave Eddie a sad wink, which somehow made the whole thing almost bearable.”
What would we do if we could be God? How would we use all His power and all His grace? Would we make it a priority to be perfectly just, or would we rather become perfectly merciful? Could we be both? Should we?
Often, I have imagined what it would be like to apply justice perfectly and give everyone what — in my limited view — every person deserves, just as God can potentially do. The world would be a much better place, I have fantasized. But what about God’s mercy? “Through all God’s dealings with man,” Ellen White wrote, “His purpose of grace and mercy runs like a thread of gold.”2 What if we could see others as God sees them, if we could be as merciful as God is? Wouldn’t the world also be a much better place?
Through Jesus, God called us to His standard of perfection. “You shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48, NKJV). That oft-quoted verse often gets detached from its context, stated a few verses earlier. “I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (vv. 44, 45).
It is God’s standard of perfection and God’s calling to those who call themselves children of God — loving perfectly as He loves, even at the sake of being, in human terms, unfair. After all, that is what He did with us. “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22, NKJV); and “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses … made us alive” (Eph. 2:4, 5, NKJV).
God’s call to perfection is an invitation to be merciful and kind to others. It is our only hope if we dream of ever catching the heavenward bus.
1. Etgar Keret, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God and Other Stories, trans. by Miriam Schlesinger et al (New York: Penguin, 2015).
2. Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 238.