For Christmas Aileen and I each received a little bit of money and found that, when we combined it, we had just enough to buy a GPS for our car. This is something Aileen has wanted for some time now, so we decided to go ahead and buy one (a Garmin Nuvi if you must know). There is something just a little bit comforting about having the GPS stuck to the windshield of the car, telling us where we are, where we’re going and how long it will take to get there. At least, we lived under the illusion that it was comforting until the GPS led us astray. For the first couple of months it performed flawlessly. But then it began to show that maybe we couldn’t trust it implicitly.
Last week when we were in the Chattanooga area, my daughter started to show the symptoms of some kind of an illness so we decided to take her to a doctor (who is a friend of the family). It was a bit of a drive, so we set the GPS and let it take us there. It got us close, I suppose, but not close enough. “Turn left” it said, and I did. And as I did that it said, “Arriving at destination.” I scratched my head as I looked around and saw that we were in the parking lot of a giant movie theater. There was no doctor’s office nearby. In fact, the road we were supposed to arrive at was nowhere in sight. Yet the GPS stubbornly insisted that we were where we were supposed to be. Its job accomplished, I suppose it decided it was time for a nap. We eventually drove around and found a local who could direct us to the doctor’s office, a couple of blocks away.
On the way home we decided to stop at Chick Fil-A for lunch. As part of its directions, the GPS wanted me to drive over a concrete median. I elected not to. Driving around Orlando, it told me to bear left only after I had already had to choose between right and left; I guessed wrong and had to drive 15 miles in a circuit to recover. While I will grant that the little device is right far more often than it is wrong, it has been wrong enough times now that it has us second-guessing its directions. And if a GPS can’t get us to the right place, what possible purpose does it serve (other than telling us where we are, something we usually know anyway)?
I was thinking about this on the long drive home from Chattanooga and realized that since we got the GPS, I have gotten lost more often than when I handled the directions on my own. Here’s the reason. I used to be responsible for getting myself where I wanted to go. When I went somewhere new, I would pull up Google Maps, print out a map of the area, and write out (or print off) turn-by-turn directions. I would even sometimes look at the satellite view or street view to ensure I knew just what to look for. When I did all of this research, I typically got exactly where I needed to be without any real trouble. But now my preparation is as simple as looking up the address and punching it in. I let the GPS handle the rest.
The GPS has done something else to me. It used to be that, if I drove somewhere once, I would be able to find my way home easily enough. And if I needed to go back to that place, I would remember how to get there. But as I follow the directions of the GPS, I somehow tune out to where I am going so that I can neither find my way home without its help nor can I find my way back there again. I’ve become reliant on the little gizmo. I follow directions obediently and it gets me where I need to go—most of the time, at least.
On Monday I spoke to a group of pastors on the subject of Pastor: Train Your Church to Think Biblically. And it occurred to me as I spoke that many Christians are perhaps like me when I drive—they rely on someone or something to give them the easy answers without having to do the hard work themselves. And perhaps pastors are sometimes prone to simply give out the answers without helping the men and women of their churches learn to think for themselves. After all, if a person approaches me with a question related to theology or the Christian life, I have different options available to me. I can simply respond with my understanding as if what I say is undoubtedly true, or I can help that person find the answer on his own. While I will grant that there are times when a short answer is fitting, more often, I think, we do well to teach people to think independently. It is better, I am convinced, to send people to the Bible where they can sort out the directions on their own, following turn-by-turn, so that they truly understand where they have come from and where they are going. In this way they learn to think for themselves, they learn to search the Scriptures, they learn to think biblically.
It is easy and even comforting perhaps, to rely on that simple and automatic guidance. But it is far better, I am sure, that we learn to do the work for ourselves. As for me? Well, I still use the GPS but I’m learning that I need to supplement it with my own research. Too often it has told me where to go, only to find that I don’t know where I am or where I’ve been. It’s great for what it is, but I can’t let myself trust it implicitly.