Thursday, June 08, 2023

Tracking True

So it was my birthday, and a friend says to me, “Why don’t we go sailing on the big water?”

I’d sailed in a small way before, but that sounded good. So off we set.

My friend let me take the tiller while he went up to the prow deck and relaxed in the sun. “Just keep your eye on the compass in front of you and trust that,” he said. “So long as it says what it says now, we’re going to be on course.”

For the first three hours or so, I could see the towers of the city shrinking and receding behind us. Ahead of us was nothing but the thin, blue line of the horizon. But by hour four, about noon, I couldn’t see a landmark on any side.

Trust the Compass

Suddenly I had the weirdest feeling. My head seemed to spin and reorient itself completely. I was gripped by the overwhelming feeling that I had made a serious navigating mistake: we had turned sideways accidentally, and were now sailing parallel to land with no prospect of any land at all — let alone our destination — in front of us.

But I remembered my friend’s words: “Trust the compass.” So I swallowed my confusion and looked down at the pointer housed inside the glass bubble in front of me. Yep, it said we were on course. I couldn’t feel that we were, and I really wasn’t sure that we could possibly be. My internal compass (usually quite reliable) was screaming confusion at me. But trust the boat’s compass, he had said, and hold the course by that. That is what I did.

A few hours later we arrived at our destination — in a different country, in fact. The compass, not my perceptions, had been completely trustworthy all along.

The Big-T Truth

Jesus said, “I am … the truth.”*

Not, “I know the truth.” Not “I tell the truth.” The truth is what I am.

Now, what does that mean for us? It means that he is the compass with regard to whom the truth about everything is really found.


Because, first of all, he made everything. Secondly, all things were made for him. Thirdly, because all things only hold together because of him. Fourthly, because all things proceed inevitably toward their ultimate destiny in their particular relation to him. And that is why nothing can be seen for what it really is until we place it in the light of his existence.

He’s more than the compass of truth; he is himself the fixed central point around which all things revolve, the “true north” of every compass. And as with a compass, the true position of anything can only ever be known in conjunction with its relationship to him. All things change, but he abides forever.

Holding a True Course

What that means for us is very simple, but also very profound, and totally challenging. Christ is the compass of truth. If you want to know where something stands — anything — where it really stands — just ask yourself one simple question: “Where does it stand in relation to Christ?”

  • How is your schooling going? Well, how does your learning stand to honor Christ?
  • How is your job? So how is it serving Christ?
  • How are your finances? What is Christ getting out of them?
  • How are your friendships? How are they advancing the work of Christ?
  • How is your marriage doing? In what ways is it becoming Christ-and-the-Church-like?
  • How is your family doing? How are they doing with regard to their relationships, service and maturity in Christ?
  • How well is your leisure time being spent? Well, what is its value to Christ?

Anything and everything can be judged in its true value by considering its relationship to the One who is the center of the universe. If you want to know how your life is really going, ask that question rather than any other.

Getting Off Course

The rest is temporary stuff. It has its value in regard to Christ, but in the various relationships that seem to exist among these temporary things, there are many delusions. Your head will spin. You’ll believe yourself to be off course when you’re on course, or on course when you’re going disastrously wrong. You just can’t know the things of this world by considering their relation to each other. Our personal compasses are just not that good.

And yet we trust them so naturally. So, far too easily, we start to believe our lives have gone off course if they don’t look quite like our neighbors’, our friends’ or our co-workers’ lives. So easily we can get confused and think that our finances are bad if we can’t afford a vacation. It’s so tempting to assume our marriages are okay so long as there are no obvious signs of stress (even when they’re secretly sinking through our selfishness). It’s easy to think our family is doing well if the kids are all getting educations and careers. Or to suppose that our leisure time is our own, and we can do whatever we want with it … and so on.

But the truth is in Christ. If the world cannot find truth, it’s because it cannot find him.

Back to the Compass

If something has no value to Christ, it is not doing well — no matter what the world might think, and no matter what we might be inclined to think. If something is going hard for you, as this world reckons hardness, but is advancing the kingdom of our Lord, then it is going very well indeed. For one day, this world and all its works will simply be burned up.

“Since then these things will be destroyed in this way,” writes Peter, “what sort of people ought you to be?”

Great question. How will we know how well we are doing?

By trusting the compass.

Is it time you took a compass check?

* Thanks, PB, for the insight. You’re awesome. Here’s your footnote.

1 comment :

  1. You of course know that there are many other traditions that lay claim to a true compass as well. The problem for Christians is of course that those will not acknowledge that Christ is the standard compass against which other ones must be calibrated for accuracy. We can assume that that will never happen. Hence the imagery of Revelations.