Thinking About...the Auto Body Shop

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Due to a minor accident involving our minivan last month, I spent time at a local auto body shop this week. It was my first time taking a vehicle to an auto body shop. Not because I’ve never been an accident (I have been, but I was still young enough that my Dad took care of the repair work) nor because my vehicles are in pristine condition (they are a mess, but I’m still cheap enough to avoid paying for non-insurance-covered repairs). My experience last week got me thinking about the auto body shop.

For the sake all who’ve never taken a car to an auto body shop, allow me to describe the process:

Inspecting the Damage

A visit to the auto body shop begins, sensibly enough, with an inspection of the damage.

As we approached out 2006 Toyota Sienna in Metallic Blue I pointed to the passenger side front bumper and said succinctly, if not quite eloquently, “There it is.” The friendly auto body shop receptionist smiled empathetically and leaned in for a closer look. It was then I first realized she clutched two Sharpie markers. She uncapped the green marker and drew brackets around the minor damage to our bumper. I nodded one of those weird approving head nods we use when we’re in unfamiliar social situations. I was ready to head back inside and sign whatever papers were required to get the repair underway.

That’s when the friendly auto body shop receptionist casually re-capped the green marker and un-capped the red marker. With the attention to detail of an actuary, she began bracketing and circling and underlining every last defect on our van’s exterior. When she noted the scratches on one of the doors I wanted to explain how our toddler grabbed our keys one time years ago and dragged them across the paint. When she noticed the scrapes on the back door I had to bite my tongue not to mention the incident with garage door at my parents’ house which was most certainly not my fault. 

By the time she was finished with her pen work, our van resembled a book report graded by an overzealous high school English teacher. Thinking the inspection was mercifully finished, I sheepishly moved toward the repair shop office only to notice the friendly auto body shop receptionist move in the opposite direction, grasping the handle of the driver’s side door. Now she was going to grade our van’s interior! With clipboard in hand, she ran down a comprehensive checklist, assessing the functionality of the van’s interior—dashboard signals, power windows, cupholders, DVD collection. 

I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my life. Fifteen minutes earlier, I had considered myself the owner of a pretty nice car with some minor front-end damage. I would have told you it was in great shape for a car its age. Now, I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I felt as though I, as much as my car, had been exposed.

God’s Inspection

My experience with our van at the auto body shop is how a lot of us think God views us. We imagine God circling around our lives, marking every flaw with his divine red pen. Every chip, every imperfection is highlighted and annotated on His Great Clipboard in the Sky. Every scrape from every prior incident is set out for all to see. Even the thought of such a divine inspection can leave us feeling exposed and humiliated. 

The good news of Christianity is that such a view of God’s inspection is wrong. The gospel tells us that while God surely knows everything about us, He doesn’t hold those things against us. In His mercy, He passes over our sins. Through Jesus’s substitutionary sacrifice, He removes our sins from us. As Psalm 103 says: “He does not deal with us according to our sins… as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

My experience last week at the auto body shop reminded me that surely the law of God would find me wanting, if my life were evaluated according to a checklist of my righteousness. My life has too many miles on it; it bears the scratches and dings of too much human sin. Let’s face it: we’d all fail God’s red-marker test. But in the Gospel God looks at us through the lens of Jesus. Being united to Jesus through faith means that God sees us as washed by the blood of Christ; made beautiful and restored—damaged bumpers in all.