With a GPS app on my smartphone and a cell phone signal, I rarely get lost these days. Living in the vast open spaces of Colorado, though, I’m not always guaranteed a good cell phone signal. That’s why many years ago I learned to use an old-fashioned map and compass. In the process, I gained an important analogy about finding direction in life.
Compasses point to magnetic north, orienting the user almost everywhere on earth except at the North Pole itself. There, I’m guessing, the needle would either get stuck or float erratically because it is unable to point to the north when it is at the north.
The North Pole isn’t the only place where compasses don’t work. Once when visiting South Africa, I toured a geological formation in which highly magnetized rocks played havoc with my compass.[*] The needle flipped this way and that. I felt disoriented and temporarily lost.
Life’s North Pole
Just as we need a compass to orient us in physical reality, we need guidance in our life purpose, emotions, and spirituality. Who or what should we trust? More and more people find themselves unable to answer that question.
A recent poll by the Pew Research Center shows that young adults’ trust in business, government, and religion is plummeting. Nearly three quarters of the respondents said that “most of the time, people just look out for themselves.”[†]
In the end, we’re left with the words of the Shakespearean fool Polonius: “To thine own self be true.” We attempt to recognize reality, navigate life, and understand right and wrong all from a perspective of self. “I am the North Pole,” we seem to say. “Everything points to me.”
If we make ourselves the North Pole in life, we are truly lost. We need something outside of ourselves that points to the truth.
In days gone by, sailors would navigate by Polaris, commonly called the North Star. Orienting themselves to the Polaris may have sometimes proved to them just how lost they truly were. Only by recognizing their true position could they ever get back on track.
To students in our Summit Ministries two-week worldview and apologetics programs, I make what many think of as a radical claim: the Bible, as special revelation from God, is the compass that orients us to reality and truth.
The Bible—More Than a Rulebook
Most people, if they think of the Bible at all, see it as a sort of rule book. I once heard someone use an acrostic for the word B.I.B.L.E.: Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.
The Bible does have many rules in it about how to live well. But I think it is more helpful to think of the Bible as a compass rather than as an instruction manual. The Bible points us to God and everything else. Yes, it orients us to our lostness. Only then can we see how we might be found.
Christians throughout history have recognized the Bible as the North Star of life. In the last few decades, though, well-meaning but misguided individuals have tried to summarize this trust with the cliché, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me.”
As I point out in my book Unquestioned Answers, saying “God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me” leaves people with the impression that the Bible calls for blind faith. It doesn’t. Unlike other religious books, the Bible encourages the reader to intensively examine and test its assumptions. God wants our trust, not our unthinking conformity.
In our disorienting times, I wrote Unquestioned Answers to respond to common Christian clichés that keep people from going deep in their thinking. The more I wrote, the more I saw the Bible as a compass orienting me to truth and reality. It was disorienting at times, but not in a bad way. Only by seeing how I was off track could I regain a sense of where I should be going.
What is your compass? What is your North Pole? Don’t settle for trusting only yourself. Pick up the Bible to gain a new understanding of God, and of the world and everyone in it—including yourself.
[*] See Graham P. Collins, “Chaos in the Crater,” Scientific American, May 1, 2006, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chaos-in-the-crater/
[†] John Gramlich, “Young Americans are less trusting of other people—and key institutions—than their elders,” Pew Research Center, August 6, 2019,https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/06/young-americans-are-less-trusting-of-other-people-and-key-institutions-than-their-elders/