Back in the days when it was still dark whilst I made my morning commute and Covid-19 was still something I’d never heard of, I found myself reflecting on three matters that I had noticed on my way to work.
The first was this – misinterpreted Sat Navs cause confusion.
One morning I was perplexed when midway to work my Sat Nav, for no apparent reason, added 18 minutes to my expected journey time to work. Initially I assumed that, in the darkness, I’d missed the motorway exit at Junction 23 and my extended travelling time was due to the fact that I’d now have to drive up to Junction 22 before heading back. But then I reached the Bridgwater exit that I thought I’d missed and thus came to the conclusion, in the absence of any other conceivable explanation, that I must have entered some kind of time warp and my whole understanding of the space-time continuum would needing rethinking. The truth though was more prosaic – it was simply that I had mistakenly set the Sat Nav for home rather than work. My confusion had resulted from misinterpreting what the Sat Nav was saying.
It strikes me that we can become similarly confused in our Christian walk if we set inappropriate expectations of how our lives will work out as a result of misinterpreting what the Bible tells us. If we expect a carefree life, devoid of difficulty, hardship and suffering, we are likely to be confused and unsettled when these unwelcome intruders turn up in our lives. And if we have believed that Christians are immune to such problems, if we have believed that Christians can expect to avoid suffering, we may run the risk of coming to incorrect assumptions when we find ourselves experiencing such difficulties. We may find ourselves falsely imagining that our difficulties are a result of our having put our trust in a God who does not love us enough, or is not powerful enough, to prevent us suffering. We may conclude we have brought the suffering upon ourselves by some personal shortcoming for which God is punishing us. Tragically, we may even come to the conclusion that God does not exist at all.
If we live life with false assumptions we will be in danger of coming to false conclusions. It is so important therefore that we have a right understanding of how we can expect our lives to play out – we need to have our spiritual sat navs set accurately. We must not be surprised when suffering comes because Jesus himself makes it plain that ‘in this world [we] will have tribulation’ [John 16:33]. Nonetheless we can take heart because, even in the throws of a pandemic, we know that Jesus has ‘overcome the world’.
Second observation – Mobile phones are presumptuous.
I had recently acquired a new phone and, after I had had it for a couple of weeks, I was surprised as I climbed into my car one morning when it informed me that my journey to Bridgwater would take 29 minutes. At first I found it a little unnerving to think it knew where I was going since I had not told it, and the information it offered had not been solicited. I soon realised it had simply learnt, by virtue of being in my trouser pocket for the previous couple of weeks, what my normal movements were. Though a remarkable piece of electronics, my phone was, however, being presumptuous. I say presumptuous because travelling around in my pocket for a few weeks did not give it the right to think it knew me. OK it got lucky that particular morning – and a number of mornings since if I’m honest – but, believe it or not, it takes more than a few weeks to get to know who I am.
I have known myself now for a little over 53 years and I’m still not sure I know myself terribly well. I continue to surprise and, not infrequently, disappoint myself – with who I am and what I think, do and say. Self help gurus may assure us that we’re ‘good enough’ but I don’t think they’re right. I, for sure, am not good enough – as a doctor, husband, father, or friend. It’d be terrific if I was so much better in each of these roles and be able to fix those seemingly unsolvable difficulties which continue to present themselves. But the truth is I’m not a good enough person because like everybody else I am a sinner.
The twin truths of:
‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick’ [Jeremiah 17:9]
‘…man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord look on the heart’ [1 Samuel 16:7]
do not make comfortable reading. Which is why, I continue to draw great consolation from the belief that I am known fully by one who is big enough to cope with those difficulties with which I can’t – not least my own sinfulness. One of the great things about being a Christian is that we are known – completely known – not by a jumped up piece of electronics but by a Heavenly Father who loves us even though we are sinful – not because we are lovely but because he is loving. He knows us intimately – better than we know ourselves.
‘O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up, you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold O Lord, you know it altogether.’ [Psalm 139:1-4]
And even though our problems remain – inexplicable and troubling to ourselves and others – our hope remains outside ourselves – in one we believe knows, not only what we will do in the next 29 minutes or the next 29 years, but what we will do throughout the next 29 millennia – and beyond. More than that we also know that, even as we experience our most difficult days all that happens to us is designed by our loving Heavenly Father for our good – all of it ultimately with a view to conforming us to the likeness of Jesus.
Because our hope is not that God thinks we’re OK but rather that he loves us enough to complete the good work that he has begun of making us OK [Philippians 1:6]. It is not that we have loved God but rather that ‘he has loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins’ [1 John 4:10]. What a joy it is to be drawn by a loving Heavenly Father who really does love us rather than being driven by our need to love ourselves. What a joy it is be held safely in God’s everlasting arms on account of his mercy and grace, on account of his worth, rather than forever striving to prove our own.
And the third thing I noticed on my way to work? Well simply this.
The sunrise is sometimes staggeringly beautiful. There were a few glorious ones when I was thinking about these things. It is good sometimes to get a little perspective by looking outward at something more impressive than oneself. Not only is it more satisfying to admire the admirable than it is to be admired, it’s good to be reminded that, after a period of darkness, the sun eventually rises.
Scripture assures us that ‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning’. [Psalm 30:5] What makes the difference is the arrival of the light. Light is a positive that can be switched on in a way that darkness can not. Turning on a lamp in a dark room dispels the darkness but darkness can never be switched on so that that it dispels the light. Light reveals the truth that darkness seeks to conceal.
In dark days we need the light, we need the truth, we need Jesus. We need Jesus of whom the apostle John once wrote, ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.’ [John 1:4-5,9]
And that really is something worth reflecting on.
For some alternative medical reflections made in the darkness, click here