Blind faith

Everyone who’s ever been steered wrong by MapQuest, raise your hand!  (I can’t see you, of course.  But I sense a disturbance in the Force.)

In my last post, I wrote of happening upon a beautiful roadside vista on my way back from a speaking engagement.  What I failed to mention was that I was returning from teaching Family Wellness to the chaplain corps at Fort Irwin, up in the High Desert.  And part of what made that vista so wondrous and welcoming was its negative counterpart: the utter lostness I felt on the drive to the training center.

I never go to a new place without getting directions first.  The good news is that without being asked, the Army chaplain who invited me sent MapQuest directions.  As an additional precaution, I also printed my own, and set out confidently.

The bad news is that I didn’t notice that the two sets of directions were different.  Nor was I aware that the chaplain hadn’t actually looked at what he sent.  By the time I figured it out, what should have been about a 2-1/2 hour drive took almost 6.

Part of it was fighting through the dense rush hour traffic.  It was some time before I even needed to glance at the printouts.

But I should have had my first clue when I drove past the exit that was clearly labeled “Fort Irwin Road.”  Let’s see.  My destination is Fort Irwin.  Shouldn’t I be getting off here?  But the directions made no mention of that exit. Well, maybe the chaplain knows a shortcut.  How could his directions be wrong? 

By the time I was 20+ miles past the Fort Irwin exit, the shortcut idea seemed somewhat less convincing.  I pulled off the freeway; it was then that I noticed that my set of directions mentioned Fort Irwin Road, but his didn’t.  That should have been my second clue.

I was stuck with a dilemma: go back or press on?  Do the obvious thing or gamble on the chaplain’s directions?

I pressed on.

My third clue: the directions actually took me off the pavement, onto dirt roads where there were no lights.  No signs.  No people.  I found myself following instructions like “in 0.4 miles, turn half-right”–and sure enough, there would be another unmarked dirt road right there waiting.  “Turn right at the bush that looks like Abraham Lincoln’s head” would have been almost as useful.  I even found myself signalling as I turned.  For whom, I have no idea.  Perhaps a startled jack-rabbit.

I still wasn’t worried yet: after all, I was listening to a lecture series on predestination.  (Really.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

But after about 30 minutes more of twisting my way through bushes that resembled each president since George Washington, I was worried.  At every turn, I had hoped Fort Irwin would soon be in sight.  It wasn’t, and I was in the middle of nowhere.

I got out my cellphone, hoping I still had service.  The chaplain wasn’t home; I was told he was at a Bible study and would return soon.  So I sat in the dark in my predestined predicament and waited for his call.

After what seemed like a very long time, he called back.  That’s when I found out he had never checked the directions he sent, and yes, I should have taken the obvious exit.  No doubt he figured he didn’t need to check the directions, since any idiot would have known to get off at Fort Irwin Road.

He also gave me another potentially useful piece of information: I was currently sitting in an area used for military training exercises.

Expecting a tank to come trundling out of the night at any moment, I hastily reversed course and eventually found my way back to–everyone say it together now–Fort Irwin Road.

For a guy with advanced education, I can be pretty clueless sometimes.  I had willfully put blind faith in a set of printed directions, even when other information right in front of my face should have told me something was seriously wrong.

That kind of tunnel vision is not what the Bible means by faith.

Some characterize Christian faith as a blind, unreasonable leap off an intellectual cliff, waiting to be caught by a God who isn’t there.  And it is true that there are Christians who display a “don’t trouble me with the facts” kind of attitude, defensively pushing away anything that remotely challenges their preconceived beliefs.  (The opposite, of course, is also true: as the saying goes, some are “so open-minded that their brains are falling out.”  That, I would submit, is another kind of blindness.)

But when the Bible says that faith is “assurance about what we do not see” (Heb 11:1, NIV), it’s not because we’ve closed our eyes.  Faith doesn’t mean willfully ignoring or denying what we see, but knowing that there is more to life than meets the eye, more than can be verified by empirical method.

That’s something that challengers to the very idea of faith often overlook: for all their protestations of intellectual purity, at some point, they too must make untestable assumptions.  They bring, in short, their own species of faith.

Biblical faith should be intellectually responsible.  But that’s not to say that faith is a purely intellectual affair.  It is, at heart, the defining characteristic of our relationship with God, a deep trust in the goodness of a promise-making God that is neither unreasonable nor captive to the limits of human reason.

And if that vertical relationship is intrinsic to faith, there is also a horizontal dimension: faith should not be a purely individual affair.  I am certain, for example, that if my wife had been in the car with me, we wouldn’t have gone very far past the Fort Irwin Road exit.

Why?  Because on my own, I can be much stupider than I am in the presence of someone who loves me and holds me accountable.