By Shannon Vowell
I like to use Google maps on my phone.
I type in the address of where I need to go, and, presto! A map appears right there in the palm of my hand, along with step-by-step instructions for getting from where I am to where I want to be. I can even press a button to translate those instructions into spoken directions, so that I can drive while my phone tells me what to do next.
My children are not nearly as bedazzled as I am by this technology. They have grown up with it, and find it almost incomprehensible that when I was their age I wrote down directions on a piece of paper and/or used a folding map to get from point A to point B. And that I did this (and everything else in life) without use of a phone – unless I stopped and used a “payphone” (like in the old Superman movies).
My husband can’t use Google maps like I do. That’s because he has disabled the automatic location function on his phone. A former military officer, he is not comfortable with apps tracing his every move, and being “off grid” is, to him, worth the trouble of needing to stop for directions occasionally. Notice that his phone is useless for finding his way because Google maps (or any digital direction service) only works if the phone’s location can be pinpointed as a starting point.
In that respect, navigation hasn’t changed from the paper map days. You have to know your beginning point before you can accurately figure your trajectory. That’s true whether you’re punching an address into a phone or looking for a dot on a paper map. Knowing where you want to go is only half the equation. You have to know where you’re starting from, too. And no matter how you figure the navigation, the only place you can begin from is where you are.
Maps and the Maker. Scripture tells us that we are, in our deepest and most eternally stable core, creations of the Creator – made in the image of the One True God. Scripture describes God making us, breathing life into us, calling us “very good,” giving us work and purpose, as well as form. We were made by God. And we were also made like God – in God’s image.
Therefore, we cannot know ourselves unless we know the One in whose image we are made. And we cannot figure out either where we are or where we’re wanting to go until we have a basic grasp of whose we are, for two reasons.
First, because God’s is the only Way that reliably meets us right here (wherever “here” may be).
Second, because God’s Way is also the only route that reliably takes us home to Heaven by way of fulfillment, purpose, and peace.
Therefore, pinpointing our present location on the map of our lives – as well as charting the course of our new beginning – must commence with a review of the One True God.
Mapping for Accuracy. When I was a new Christian, I was confused by people who talked about God as if he had a split personality. The “angry God” of the Old Testament was someone distinct from “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” some insisted. They rejected the former as a harsh, condemning Angry Man, and embraced the latter as a kind of Embodiment of Universal Affirmation. Old Testament God: Bad; New Testament God: Good.
During my husband’s years as a Naval Flight Officer, he navigated planes’ routes based on fixed points outside the plane. Sometimes those points were geographic elements – a mountain, a bridge, a light house. Over open ocean, those points were stars. Accurate calculations for a flight path depended on these fixed points.
The quickest way to get off track was to “buy a bad fix” – to calculate based on wrong information regarding those fixed points. Buy a bad fix, and there’s no way to arrive at your destination.
When we think of God as a splintered, schizophrenic character, we are buying a bad fix. We can’t possibly navigate accurately based on bad data about God.
Further, misunderstandings in this category create all kinds of traps for us. Denying the truth of God’s identity as revealed in Scripture sets us up to trip over everything else. Careful reading corrects us. When we read carefully, we find there is no “good cop/bad cop” paradigm in the person of God. Rather, there is seamless wholeness and holiness, manifested across the eons.
God is “One” and every person of the Godhead is present in every action. Over the next few issues of Good News, I will look at Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to better understand this incredible Triune Lord in whose image we were made.
In this issue, we begin with Abba. Why? As modern people, we often have serious “authority issues.” We have learned to question rules and rule-makers, because they have proven themselves untrustworthy. To receive the peace our Heavenly Father has in mind for us, we need to surrender to the perfect Sovereign who made us and loves us. He is wise and wonderful and faithful forever!
God’s consistent goodness has to be the fixed point from which we calculate our flight path, or we will arrive at inhospitable places ad infinitum.
Compass Corrective. Jesus called God, the Father, ‘‘Abba.” Roughly translated into modern English, Abba means “Daddy.” The Son’s words and works reveal the Father in all his multi-faceted glory: infinite strength alongside infinite tenderness motivated by infinite love.
But it’s important to acknowledge a common navigational error at this point: mistaking our Father in Heaven for a large-scale version of our own fathers. At their best, earthly fathers point us to God through their love, their strength, their protective instincts, and their faithfulness as providers. But sometimes our experience of earthly fathers renders ludicrous the idea of a Good Father in Heaven.
Being abandoned by an earthly father makes one suspicious of the supposed faithfulness of God. Being abused by an earthly father makes one suspicious of God’s purported kindness. Watching an earthly father repeatedly make stupid mistakes or fall victim to addiction makes one skeptical of the very notions of wisdom and purity – and therefore unable to accept that God is both perfectly wise and perfectly holy.
Sadly, some of us hear “Father” and instinctively flinch – or run.
If your experience of earthly fatherhood has left you wounded and cynical, I encourage you to resist the urge to assume God the Father is just like your dad.
God’s version of paternity is flawless and faithful. And God persists in patiently seeking the healing and welfare of all of His children – including you.
Sharon Vowell is a writer, teachers, musician, and mom. She is a frequent contributor to Good News. This is the first of three installments on the Trinity from her new workbook, Beginning … Again: Discovering and Delighting in God’s Plan for Your Future available on Amazon.