Technology is incredible. The simple light bulb of Edison with electricity heating filament has been eclipsed by far more efficient luminary technology, that can convert energy into light with exponential results. I have been amazed as I replaced many of the lamps in my apartment with higher efficiency LED bulbs, that have far greater longevity at fractions of the consumption as traditional devices, with even brighter results.
But as with most tech upgrades, we face new challenges and raise new ethical dilemmas. New efficiency may create problems that were unlikely or impossible in prior epochs.
I’m going somewhere with all the abstraction above.
I’m concerned by the way many have applied all the technology available to them in headlights for their automobiles. While some outdated legal regulation exists governing brightness for your headlights (and I’m inclined to hope for more) my goal here is to discuss something more powerful than legality—worship.
No, I’m not insane to talk about your headlight choice as a worship issue, but let me defend that position. Scripture regularly talks about worship as love for God (Deuteronomy 6:5) and love for neighbor (Leviticus 19:18). Jesus calls out these two laws as the greatest commandments (Mark 12:29–31), and Paul says the entire worship code can be summed up in the single statement “love your neighbor” (Romans 13:9).
I think it is safe to say, then, that it is possible for you to love God by loving your neighbor, when those acts of love are done with respect to and in view of loving and trusting God. If you cannot love your neighbor as an act of loving God, then you are obligated to break the first greatest command by accomplishing the second.
I offer here my suggestion of how you can love God by loving your neighbor the next time you decide which light bulb you buy for your car. In short, I want to show how you can worship God with your headlights.
Love Your Neighbor
First, we must determine a correlation between headlight brightness and love for neighbor. This is probably the most likely area for disagreement. I’m also admittedly not neutral here, and my experiences color my argument. I have frequently been exposed to what I would call “unlovingly bright” headlamps on the roads. Whether from cars traveling behind me, or from oncoming traffic, I repeatedly find my vision hindered by other drivers at night in ways bordering on (or occasionally barreling over) hazardous.
Okay, I may be the weaker brother in this scenario. I might have an unusually sensitive coronary condition that causes me unusual blindness from bright lights at night. Perhaps there’s a deficiency in my diet that causes unusual proneness to blind-spots. It has become a more regular problem since I moved to the North Shore of Chicago. The twin combination of many late-model cars (with shiny bright lights) and low-lit streets in the North Shore villages is an unhappy pairing.
But if it’s true that when headlights are too bright (whatever that level may be) the ability of other people to safely operate their vehicle is significantly diminished, then it is unloving to your neighbor to excessively increase your own luminescence at the expense of another’s safety. To put it bluntly, it is selfish to blind someone else so you can see better.
Blinding people for your own sake is selfish, rude, and—on the road—dangerous.
Really, this whole article is a more elaborate way of saying, Don’t be an ass. (Psalm 32:9)
Trust Your God
If you agree that love of neighbor is an appropriate way to process your candlepower decisions, how does this move beyond mere altruism and actually become worship? Does God get glory simply by low-power light bulbs? Not quite.
The way you worship God by not reaching for the brightest possible option the next time you’re at Autozone is by consciously foregoing your rights in dependence on blood-bought grace. Even if the laws of the land never catch up to the arms race of LED headlighting, you glorify God when you lay down your rights in service of another in faith-filled dependence and lovingkindness for your neighbor. After all, anything not proceeding from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). So how do you potentially downgrade candlepower by faith?
When you consider that Jesus did not cling to his divine prerogatives, but humbled himself for our sake (Philippians 2:6), your headlight purchase might be an everyday instantiation of your conformity to Christlikeness.
When your lower-powered, less-efficient bulb choice results from a conscious consideration of showing honor to others (Romans 12:10), worship is happening.
When you sacrifice your own perceived right to see further so that it does not infringe upon the rights of your fellows (1 Corinthians 9:12), you have a greater reward than increased nighttime visibility.
Let Your Brighter Light Shine
To be clear, it is probably equally (more so?) dangerous to go too far in the other direction and get lights that are insufficiently bright. This isn’t an article advocating darkness. Rather, I offer this simple meditation as an example of how to let your light shine before men as they see your good deeds of love for God and love for neighbor in reasonable headlight choice. And perhaps, if you get a chance to explain all this to the clerk at the auto store when you turn down their suggestion for the brighter offering, they might glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).