Law and Gospel (and Stolen Bikes), Portland Style

From the same cultural miasma that brought us grandma being bullied on a bus comes […]

Bryan J. / 8.21.12

From the same cultural miasma that brought us grandma being bullied on a bus comes an end times Portland parable of Law and Gospel.

On August 3rd, Jake Gillum of Portland discovered that his beloved bicycle–a $2,500 road bike–had been stolen. Angry and infuriated, Jake combed the pages of craigslist looking to find the rare and expensive bike for sale. After almost a week, he found it for sale in nearby Seattle. Enlisting the help of his friends, their smartphones, a fake alias, and a video camera, Jake traveled the 160 miles to confront the suspected thief and reclaim his bike. The dramatic confrontation ended in the suspected thief’s arrest. The whole ordeal was, of course, documented, edited, and uploaded to youtube for the world to see. As of this morning, the video had over a million hits, and news outlets were reporting the video as viral. Be forewarned, the bike crusader is not shy about expressing his anger and adrenaline through loud and boisterous swearing.


Now, for two thoughts on this somewhat Portland-ish expression of law and gospel:

1) The Law is like stealing a bike from an angry, technologically savvy hipster. It will track you down and exact justice regardless of the expenses necessary. It will document in full your list of offenses, and it will broadcast them for the world to see. It will be your undoing. How ironic is it that, in the ensuing foot chase, Jake uses his recovered bike to chase the suspected thief down? The instrument of the offense became the vehicle for the offender’s judgment. The law, as they say, condemns and convicts, and you know it’s bad when hipsters are playing the citizen’s arrest card.

2)  The Gospel is like an angry, technologically savvy hipster tracking down his beloved stolen bike. Take this quote from Jake as he pursues the alleged thief: “This is why you don’t steal from bicyclists! Because we care about our rides! Because I will go 160 miles to get my US$2,500 bike back! You are going to jail!” In Luke 15, Jesus tells the story of a woman who turns her whole house upside down because she’s looking for a coin. He also tells the story of a shepherd leaving his 99 sheep behind to go find the one that wandered off. Love, in its truest sense, is identified by the suffering and personal risk one will go through to maintain that relationship. Jake called in the favors, traveled three hours, and spent hours across sleepless nights trying to find his beloved bike. It’s no crucifixion, death, and resurrection, for sure, but it’s enough to show that love and suffering are as inseparable as iPhones and that band you’ve never heard of. I can make that joke because I wear sweater vests and smoke a pipe.

When judgment and love meet together like this, it’s what theologians call an “eschatological” moment. Eschatology means “the end times,” and Christians have always believed that Jesus will one day come back, lock up the proverbial bike thieves, and recover his proverbial lost bike. Judgment and love come together, and it’s good news for bikes, but not good for thieves.

In a law/gospel world, the question that is most relevant is this: are we the bike or are we the thief? How do we think God relates to us? Is God filming our every move, plotting a sting operation, and waiting to catch us with our guard down and publicly broadcast our humiliating demise? Or is He tearing through craigslist at all hours of the morning looking for any sign that we’re out there, hoping beyond hope to find us and drive across state lines to bring us home? Are we a bike or a thief?

The right answer is that we’re both.  Simul bike et thief, both sinner and saint.  God humbles the proud, tearing down and bringing low haughty bike thieves who think they’ve gotten away with it. But he also goes the extra mile to do whatever it takes to rescue his lost bikes. As both James 4 and Proverbs 3 attest, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Through the death and resurrection of Christ, God declares repentant bike thieves innocent, sparing them the death of their sin being broadcast across the social media landscape, and returning them to their rightful owner. Though in our Portland eschatology, the guilty are arrested and the innocent returned, in Christian eschatology, there will be a heaven full of former bike thieves.

So we are both bike and thief. God exposes us in our pride and rebellion (law), but he also allows himself to be nailed to a cross so that we might be returned to our rightful owner (gospel). He has declared us innocent of theft, and there’s no more worry of becoming the butt of God’s viral sting campaign. And like the prodigal bike, someone who loves us is searching tirelessly for us, eagerly awaiting our joyous reunion. Amen.