Impound Lot Theology

Every time I have to pay a fine to get my car back from an impound lot, I have a new appreciation for the concept of redemption. (I also have a new appreciation for my need to acquire common sense, but, you know, theology first, guys!)

The scene: it is 10:30 at night and every spot in the apartment parking lot is full. I drive around twice, and think, “Aw man, I’ll have to park somewhere else and walk. I’m tired and it’s dark and there’s a suspicious-looking person lurking over there. But wait! The handicap space is open! Seriously, how many disabled people are going to need to get into the apartment before 7:30 AM? And no one really checks on these things, right?”

The next morning, my car is gone, and I know immediately what happened. So I call the friendly local towing company that is holding my car hostage and we work out a ransom.

It could have been worse...

It could have been worse…

So, yes. I’m still working on this being-an-adult thing.

I was probably easily the most cheerful person the impound lot people had ever encountered, because, you know, these things just happen sometimes. I have this built into my budget. (What other people call their “Emergency Fund,” I call my “Wow, That Was Stupid Fund” because I assume anything that happens will be my fault. It usually is.) And despite the fact that I doubt I inconvenienced a single handicapped person by parking my car for a few hours in their designated spot, I did break a rule and I did receive a just penalty for it.

Also, I think about all the times I’ve broken rules and gotten away with it. If you added up every mile I’ve been speeding, every time I charmed myself out of arriving to class late during high school, every lie that’s never caught up with me, every boast and rude comment and failure that people have overlooked…well, let’s just say that a $200 fine isn’t all that bad.

When I got back into my car, I patted the dashboard and said, “I have redeemed you, car.” Because the car was already mine when it was taken from me, and then I had to buy it back again. Much like Jesus bought us back from sin and death with his death on the cross.

Of course, the analogy ends there, because unlike Jesus, the reason I needed to redeem something was totally my fault. In fact, when I went to the impound lot, the middle-aged hunting enthusiast behind the deck scratched a grizzled chin, squinted at me, and asked, “So, did you just not see the sign or something?”

And I said, quite perkily, “Nope. I saw the sign, and I deliberately disregarded it.” Because at this point, they can’t charge me any more for honesty, and the guy had probably heard every excuse in the book, so why bother?

But it just goes to show that if there is a rule, I will break it. My sin nature becomes very obvious when there are laws in place telling me not to do something. Mark a button “Do Not Push” and my finger moves toward it, almost like it has a will of its own.

There are way, way too many photos of me directly next to a rule I'm breaking.

There are way, way too many photos of me directly next to a rule I’m breaking.

No, that’s not quite right. It does have a will. Mine. And like Paul in Romans 7, my will is bent toward doing the wrong thing, sometimes for no apparent reason at all.

So, there you have it. In my little towed car adventure, I was both a picture of Jesus and a picture of sinful humanity.

We deliberately broke the rules, and continue to break them every single day without learning our lesson.

Jesus paid our debt for us anyway to win us back. And that’s pretty amazing.

Given that there are lots of great metaphors for salvation, though, I think next time I’d prefer a reminder that isn’t so expensive and inconvenient. Thanks, impound lot, for throwing in a theological lesson with my fee.


  1. “What other people call their “Emergency Fund,” I call my “Wow, That Was Stupid Fund””

    Heh. I laughed at this. Fun names are always fun.

  2. It’s great to not only take things in life like this and turn them into deeper lessons (or rather, just SEE the lessons already there) but also to be cheerful when dealing with such things. When pulled over by a police officer while speeding (which thankfully doesn’t happen too too often) I am usually ready to face the music, because even though that road maybe COULD have been a 60 mph zone, it wasn’t, and I was in the wrong.

    What did the impound person say when you said you disregarded the sign? Anything?

    1. I agree. You certainly can’t change the outcome by being angry, so you might as well be less miserable.

      And the impound person blinked and then tried to pretend his laugh was a cough. But I could tell.

  3. Love the perspective of looking for redemptive analogies through the lens of every-day life. I need to cultivate that kind of perspective more often!

    I do have a bit of an unfair question for you though. I call it unfair because it picks at a point that was not really the main thrust of your argument, but I’m still going to ask it!

    You reference Romans 7 (one of my all-time favorite sections of Scripture) as regards to your will being inclined toward doing evil. However, in Romans 7 Paul specifically references that his will is not completely inclined toward evil (unlike the natural, unregenerate person), but that it is split and in conflict. He does the evil he does not want to do, and the good thing he wants to do he doesn’t do. (Paraphrase of Romans 7:21) Whenever I read Romans 7, my mind always goes to 2 Corinthians 5:17 and how we are no longer contained in our old sin nature, but that the “old” me has “passed away” and that the “new” me (aka the regenerate me) has come to be.

    So now that I’ve typed all that I realize that I never actually included a question for you to answer! I suppose I never really had one and was simply looking for an excuse to talk about how awesome it is that we share in the Spirit of Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 🙂 Huzzah!

    1. Ben!

      I love that, as I was writing this, I thought, “Should I put a Stuffy Theological Footnote for the Dedicated Reader on the Romans 7 reference and mention the debate over whether that passage refers to a pre- or post-salvation person? Nah, no one cares.” Which actually kind of relates to your non-question question (Also, unfair questions are actually my favorites. I need more people around me asking unfair questions.)

      I’ve heard both sides of the argument about Romans 7, and lean slightly toward post-redemption Paul still continuing to struggle with sin because before salvation we don’t hate our sin and want to do good. Then again, I see the point as far as being a new creation, which doesn’t seem to align with the “wretched” man of the passage. Either way, the point is victory through Christ by the end of the passage, whether that’s talking about Jesus’ sacrifice releasing us from the penalty of sin now (and regenerating us), or the power of sin when we’re tempted (that we have the ability with the Holy Spirit to not do the things we hate), or the presence of sin in the new heavens and new earth. I think you’re probably right in saying that we should talk about Romans 7 more in light of that victory than our inclination toward evil, because that’s where the passage ends.

      1. Oh, I agree that Paul is speaking in a post-redemptive sense. I more read Romans 7 in conjunction with 2 Corinthians 5 to appreciate the reality of the regenerate person’s duality in the already-not-yet paradox of this age. I think that often our remaining sin nature tries to convince us that the voice it speaks to us in is OUR voice. This deception that we should still identify with the voice of our flesh as OUR voice as opposed to the voice of our enemy (an enemy that may live within our camp, but an enemy nonetheless!) I believe contributes to the exhaustion and condemnation that I’ve seen many brothers and sisters heavily burdened with. In Christ we are freed from slavery to Sin and are instead bound to Christ and hidden in him. Thus we can say with Paul in Romans 7 that it is not I that does the sinful action I do not desire, but my sin still indwelling my “body of death.” (Love that imagery! Who knew the Bible spoke of zombies!)

        Anyway, all that to say, I agree with you. 😛

        1. Realized after posting that makes me sound like I think Christians don’t sin or are somehow not responsible for their continued transgressions. Totally not what I mean. I’m more speaking to the reality that the sin that indwells us and continues to tempt us is not what we should or need to identify ourselves with. We can look to Christ and realize that He has completely redeemed us, and replaced our perverted nature and desires with His spirit. So yeah, we totes continue to sin. We just don’t self-identify with that sinful, old, zombie person we used to be.

          And yes, I did say “totes.” That’s what you kids say these days, right?

          1. No, that’s what I got from your response. Safe to say we are still influenced by our sin nature but no longer enslaved by it, because we can have victory through Christ?

            And Ben, I hate “totes” more than almost any abbreviation imaginable, with the possible exception of YOLO. Like, I used to fine people a quarter for saying it in my presence.

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