As I suspect in most places, Scotland and particularly the Highlands, have places with the same name. This can become confusing. In another life as a serving Police Officer in the Highlands, I have seen calls routed to wrong locations with the same names a number of times – sometimes hundreds of miles apart.
At one point in my career I was station in the village of Gairloch on the North West coast of the Highlands. There is also a location near the Central Belt of Scotland called Gare Loch, in Argyll and Bute, best known for its connection with the Nuclear Submarine Fleet at Faslane. The naval base at Faslane is some 210 miles south and a 5 hour drive from the village of Gairloch where I was stationed.
One dark, cold, wet and windy winter night I was sitting by the fireside of our home (which was attached to the small Police Station) in Gairloch when I heard a loud knock on our front door. On opening the door there stood a distinguished looking gentleman in full military uniform – an officer of considerable rank. With no introduction he requested directions to the Submarine Base. I asked him if he was joking – a comment to which he seemed to take some offence. He repeated his question informing me he had an urgent NATO meeting to attend and for which he was running late. When I informed him that the location of his meeting was some 200 miles south of his current location he turned all colours of purple. He had in fact travelled from Glasgow, less than an hours drive from his intended destination, bypassed it, and ended up at the door of my home in Gairloch some six hours after leaving the city.
Perhaps the man concerned can laugh about it now – but he certainly didn’t at the time – and I sometimes wonder if his driver retained his job after the incident!
Wrong destinations can be an inconvenience – but also, for some, a disaster. We have all heard stories of people who arrived in the wrong place at the wrong time and who ended up in very serious or life threatening circumstances. Some have even lost their lives as a result.
This story also give me pause for thought at another level. Where is the journey of life itself headed? Is my destination and route clear and defined? Am I on the right road – a road leading where I want to go? These are good and important questions to ask – irrespective of whether you are religious or not.
But for the religious among as they are, I think, very pertinent question – at least for me.
I think it is far too easy for those of us who call ourselves ‘Christian’ – especially in the ‘Evangelical’ world in which I was brought up, to think we are headed for the right destination just because we once prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ or ‘asked Jesus into our hearts’ (neither of which terms we ever find in the bible by the way).
Others see a religious ‘profession’ in terms of an insurance policy against the possible accident of Hell – but never really bother much with the terms and conditions.
I heard recently of a Christian lady asking the question – ‘Why would I be a Christian if there is no hell?’ For her this appeared to be the one and only reason she thought is worthwhile being a Christian. How sad. But I suspect she is not alone. I know many who certainly started out in the Christian life for this reason – I don’t know how it is with them today.
Putting all that aside for a moment let me ask another question – ‘What is the purpose and reason for my Christian life at this moment?’ Is it simply to live a moral and upright life – or perhaps to serve in some capacity in a church or religious organisation? For many today in lockdown their ‘service’ reason for living the Christian life has been removed – so what is left? Perhaps to put all this more bluntly we could ask – ‘what is my reason for living?’
I personally have come to the conclusion that the goal of my religion, the core reason for being a Christian, the impetus of the life of faith – is not primarily that I will be a good person, a moral or upright person, nor that I am primarily, in words I have heard so often ‘saved to serve’. None of these are, I suggest, the primary goal or destination of the Christian life.
The truth is that the ultimate goal – the definitive destination and purpose of the Christian life is that of union with God himself. Yes, the others things will follow as day follows night – but the true reason for life and living is to know God!
When it boils down to it – even the Apostle Paul, perhaps the greatest thinker and missionary worker the world has ever know, when he summed up his core aim and purpose in life said this –
‘I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him … ‘
Now here is the problem for me in all this – I cannot fully understand or comprehend this kind of language on a purely moralistic, intellectual level – because this is the language of the mystic – in the widest sense of the term. And it is both a language and tradition that my Christian upbringing did not prepare me for. Of course this kind of mystical language is found everywhere in the Bible – but our rationalistic western form of Christianity so often ignores it or explains it away.
We see this mystical form of our relationship with God most beautifully revealed in the Psalms. These are the words of David, a man who failed morally and emotionally on more than one occasion –
‘Here’s the one thing I crave from God,
the one thing I seek above all else:
I want the privilege of living with him every moment in his house,
finding the sweet loveliness of his face,
filled with awe, delighting in his glory and grace.
I want to live my life so close to him
that he takes pleasure in my every prayer.
In his shelter in the day of trouble, that’s where you’ll find me,
for he hides me there in his holiness.
He has smuggled me into his secret place,
where I’m kept safe and secure—
out of reach from all my enemies.
Lord, when you said to me, “Seek my face,”
my inner being responded,
“I’m seeking your face with all my heart.’
Psalm 27 – TPT
Then in Psalm 17 – PTP
‘As for me, because I am innocent I will see your face
until I see you for who you really are.
Then I will awaken with your form and be fully satisfied,
fulfilled in the revelation of your glory in me!’
I am reminded at this moment of something A.W. Tozer said –
“To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love, scorned indeed by the too-easily satisfied religionist, but justified in happy experience by the children of the burning heart.”
Here, on this journey and on this road we are, I believe, heading in the right direction – moving, however slowly, towards the intended destination.
Perhaps we should all pray this simple prayer from Psalm 139 today –
‘God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart.
Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me.
Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares. See if there is any path of pain I’m walking on,
and lead me back to your glorious, everlasting ways— the path that brings me back to you.’