Ever since we were energetic teenagers my brother , Peter, and I have relished the idea of breaking free of the city and getting into the countryside. First we would have to choose an interesting place to visit. Then began the fun of planning our cycle route. For us travelling was as important as arriving. So out would come the map that would provide us with the crucial information we needed to make our journey. How we enjoyed wrestling with the decisions necessary in planning these outings!
There was the memorable occasion when we decided to cycle from Oxford to the south coast of England-about 100 miles. We'd almost reached the end of our journey when the weather turned foul, with driving rain and gusty winds. It was getting dark, and we valiant knights of the road, mounted on our bikes, were soaking wet, tired and miserable! And then, out of the mist and rain there loomed the warning sign, 'DANGER! ROAD CLOSED. DIVERSION.'
What were we to do? Sheer bravado, and eager determination left us in no doubt. We must reach the end of our journey as soon as possible. Grab the prospect of changing into dry clothes, and relaxing with a hot drink. We were eager to arrive as soon as possible. Go for the shortest route on our map. Wise in our fool-hardy conceit, we were not going to be deterred by a danger sign. Those, we thought, were for the faint-heart.
All too soon our arrogant folly caught up with us. Giant waves crashed over the coast-road we'd decided to take. What should we do now? Rashly we decided to press on, rather than turn back. After all, we were already soaking wet. A further drenching would make no difference. We didn't want to double back and prolong our miserable journey. Gradually the salty waves, crashing over our heads, caused our bikes to seize up. Every ball-baring became encrusted with salt. Peddling became harder and harder. At long last, utterly exhausted, we eventually reached our destination.
In a strange way this saga of many years ago is now telling me something about the purpose of God's Law -also its limitations. Far from being a strait-jacket that restricts movement, this Law is Divine Wisdom -a road map by which God shows His beloved people how to journey through life, responding to His love for them. Here He has chartered those quagmires which would destroy His people's love for Him. The Psalmist puts his love for God's Law beautifully,
"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,"
(Ps. 119. 105).
No wonder Jesus said He'd not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfil it. After all, it was God's Law, and Jesus never ceased to be God; it was given to the Jews, and He never ceased to be a Jew. No wonder He did not want to tear up the 'map of life' He Himself had given His people!
Instead, He came to provide a clearer map that would reveal what had never been suspected, and much that had been overlooked or misunderstood...a map of life with more inviting possibilities and more protective warnings. God's Law guides us through this life and leads us safely to eternal life and happiness. So the prophet Jeremiah advises us,
Thus says the Lord, 'Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.' But they said, 'We will not walk in it,'"
(Jer. 6. 16).
You'd think Jeremiah had Peter and me in mind when he wrote those words -our headstrong perversity in ignoring a well intentioned warning road-sign. Much more crass to spurn God's road-map for life, as though we knew better!
But maps, directions and even laws do have their limitations. They can tell us how to get from one place to another, and what dangers we should avoid. But that information alone will never give us the energy to start moving and keep going...to get on our bikes or to follow God's map of life and to persevere on our journey towards Him until our dying breath. We need God to do more than tell us where we should or should not go. We need Him to give us the will-power and energy to make the journey.
But then Jesus exclaims, "I am the way, and the truth and the life," (Jn. 14. 6). Not only does He show us the way to the Father, but He also gives us the energy to journey towards Him. Baptism sets us on our way and gives us a divine vitality, a dynamism to travel towards God.
So, I first meet God in studying and loving the map of life He has given us. Then I draw upon His energizing grace to journey towards Him. Out of love He has mapped out for me the way to eternal happiness with Him. I can trust Him not to lead me astray!
In a fortnight Peter will meet God through 'Impossible Dreams.'