Tuesday, June 16th, 2020
Today’s post is an aside. It is not directly about the Book of Revelation.
Not long ago I went hiking with my daughter and one of her friends. We went to a county park with two or three marked trails. At the trail head there stood a big wooden map displaying the park’s trails. There was a red trail, a blue trail, and a third trail. Was it marked yellow? Maybe. I think so. I think I think so. Honestly, I don’t remember. It may have been yellow, green, orange, or purple paisley. I was oblivious to it, and intentionally so. Since we were only hiking the red and blue trails, I did not pay the third trail any attention. The third trail I deemed irrelevant, very unnecessary. I chose to give it no thought, zero.
Upon further consultation, my dear daughter informs me that the trail is indeed marked yellow. So there you have it.
Anyway, you do the same thing. You deliberately ignore information you deem irrelevant. As well you should. You should ignore irrelevant information, because otherwise you would quickly go into information overload. We cannot function well if we treat all information of equal value. Not everything is of equal value, as we all know. Gibberish, gibberish — we’re inundated with so much noise and gibberish. We get a lot of junk mail. Every day we scroll through hundreds and even thousands of possible clicks. Which shall we choose? How shall we choose? We all necessarily filter out extraneous information. But sadly, sometimes we err. We err in what we deem worthwhile, and in what we deem irrelevant and unnecessary. Sometimes we do.
Back to the woods we go, though. While I consider myself generally good with directions, the park was unfamiliar ground to me. I soon began to feel uncomfortably disoriented. I realized that if not for the trail maps and the periodic colored trail posts, I would end up hopelessly lost in the woods. I was grateful that someone from the county took the time and paid the necessary expenses to survey, map, mark, and maintain the park. Someone had gone before me, did some hard and extensive work, and by virtue of having done so, made things more understandable, and much, much easier for me, and for all other subsequent park visitors. Thank you helpful county park personnel. You kept me from getting lost. Muchas gracias.
As you may have guessed, I just might be making an analogy here. I am talking about hiking in a wooded park, but what I really want you to consider is how someone studies the B-I-B-L-E. Studying the Bible can be similar to hiking along winding paths in an unfamiliar wooded park. Studying the Bible can be made a lot easier and more understandable if someone has gone before you, done some hard work, and put up well-placed maps and periodic trail posts.
In general, someone has. The good news is that “the county park personnel” have done just that for you and me. Although the park may be unfamiliar to you, the county park personnel have years of extensive experience. They know it very well. And they have left maps and signposts for you and for everyone who subsequently follows. Hooray for our helpful heroes.
But there’s a problem with my analogy; isn’t there? It would be nice if all “the county park personnel” were helpful heroes, who prove reliable and good at what they do. But some aren’t. Some of the county park personnel are unreliable. Some of them are lousy at what they do. Some of them are even deceptive. Intentionally or unintentionally, they have put up maps that mislead the visitors. They have left signposts that are actually the wrong color. If you naively trust them, you will end up thoroughly lost. It’s sad; but too often, it’s true.
Since unreliable and lousy county park personnel exist, a lot of park visitors do not bother with any of the park maps or signposts. Basically, they still want to hike the trails, but have lost all confidence in anyone who has ever served as county park personnel. That’s a shame and a pity, because there have been and currently are some really good and reliable county park personnel on the job. You just have to diligently work hard to find them.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you reject the work of all the county park personnel that ever tried to survey, map, mark, and maintain the park, you then have to attempt to do it all for yourself. Are you really sure that you will do a better job than everyone who went before you? It is a big park, after all. Maybe some county park personnel actually did their work well. Maybe you can save yourself a lot of frustration if you figure out who the good personnel are.
A worse temptation, though, is to give up on the park altogether. A lot of would-be visitors do just that. They have heard and read about the unreliable and lousy county park personnel, so they just don’t bother with the park at all. Once upon a time, it may have seemed worth a visit; but what they’ve heard about the county park personnel has scared them off. They wrongly conclude that the park is a probably big waste of their time. Such scared-off visitors do err. They seriously err when they deem the park a wasted trip. In spite of some lousy county park personnel, the park is still worth an extended visit. In fact, the paths through the park are well worth a lifetime of daily visits. And the main path is worth a lifetime of investment. That main path is golden.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns his listeners about false prophets. He memorably refers to them as wolves in sheep’s clothing. They may look good and sound good, but their character ultimately betrays them. We should not be surprised at unreliable and lousy county park personnel. Ministry can be a means to a selfish end. People in ministry sometimes fail. But that does not invalidate ministry. It just means that we need to keep a watchful eye on the message and the moral character of the messenger.