Wednesday, September 20, 2017

With God As My GPS

For my birthday last year, my family gave me a Global Positioning System receiver – otherwise known as a GPS.
A few days later, I needed to drive right across Sydney. It was the ideal opportunity to try it out. It was not an auspicious start. In fact, I think I nearly gave the young woman who operates it a heart attack.
I wondered what her name was. GPS… Gloria Priscilla Sharon? No, too flowery. Gertrude Prudence Sophia? Nup. Too old-fashioned. Genevieve Panchalea Savannah? Mm, that was more like it. Daring, oriental, wild. Genevieve had a motoring tradition about it. The middle name had a hint of panache. It had once been the name of an Indian princess. But Savannah was the one I liked – with its echoes of fresh air and blue skies and sweeping grasslands. I could picture her dancing and skipping through the open spaces, laughing and singing with joie de vivre, her flared skirt swirling around her – an image, alas, that was not particularly consistent with being trapped inside a small black box affixed to the windscreen of a car.
Geneva Prudence Selena? Mm, possibly. Serious, efficient, with echoes of law-making, sagacity and caution. And appropriate for a progressive young woman executive who might well enjoy directing traffic and telling people where to go. So Geneva it was.
I had a general idea of my destination. So when Geneva spoke to me the first time, I guessed which route she had in mind – and it would involve the M5 motorway. But it was Friday evening and if I ventured on to the M5 I knew there was every possibility I would finish up sitting stationary for a long time in a huge traffic jam, while the snarling, panting vehicles banked up for their usual weekend unhappy hour. So I chose another longer but quicker route for the first part of the journey.
Geneva was not happy.
‘Turn left at Sylvania Road,’ she ordered, adopting a royal tone that didn’t suit her. I ignored her. She was obviously a bit taken aback by my apparent inability to understand a simple instruction. So she became more specific. ‘In 150 metres, turn left,’ she commanded me. Again I ignored her.
‘Turn left, turn left!’ she cried, now growing increasingly annoyed.
I disregarded her again and entered the Prince’s Highway. She was now noticeably disturbed.
I continued to disobey and she became confused. ‘Turn right at Acacia Road,’ she demanded. Now I knew she was panicking. You could only turn left at Acacia Road. The right turn had been blocked off for years. I drove smugly past. ‘Sorry, sweetheart,’ I said, apologetically. ‘Can’t be done.’
She began to sulk. I don’t think she was impressed with being called ‘sweetheart’ by someone she had only met for the first time that day. Especially someone who couldn’t comprehend simple directions in plain English. But she guided me carefully past Bangor and Menai until I reached Heathcote Road, although she was obviously doing it grudgingly.
‘Stay on this road for ten kilometres,’ she remarked coldly. It was almost a threat. I imagined that if I could see her eyes they would be either black or steel-blue, the kind that a ruthless princess might have, the kind that showed little mercy for disloyal subjects. But maybe underneath that apparent officiousness, there was a soft heart. I tried to picture her with warm green eyes, tinged with pity for one so wilful as I. Maybe there was even a touch of fear that I might do myself serious harm if I wasn’t more observant.
But after she refused to speak to me for the next quarter of an hour I knew I was right the first time. Definitely black or steel-blue.
I turned on to the Hume Highway and then to the M7. I could almost hear Geneva’s sigh of relief. I still wasn’t following the original route but she could now see that if I listened to her carefully there was a remote chance I would still finish up at the right place. She waited in silence, without a word. But I knew she was watching me closely every metre of the way. She didn’t trust me now and still suspected I might do something else unpredictable.
‘Stay on this route for the next 30 kilometres,’ she said slowly, so that I couldn’t possibly misunderstand. At the same time, the GPS screen seemed brighter. She obviously wanted to show me where I was as well. I imagined her operating some kind of hidden control panel to achieve this helpful outcome. Or was it just the fading sunlight that made the screen easier to read?
I drove on happily for nearly half an hour and began to wonder if Geneva wasn’t a bit like God. When we need directions he’s right there to give them. If we take a wrong turn, he tells us how to get back on track. And I wondered if I was not rather too much like me. So confident in my own ability and too ready to treat God like a lowly assistant to be called on for help only if needed.
By the time I’d sorted out the theological implications of all this, the Richmond Road exit came into view and I slowed down. Geneva became alarmed, evidently fearful that I was about to leave the Motorway too soon. I knew she had her hand over her eyes and I could picture her shoulders slumped in despair at my incompetence. There were signs of an ominous ‘oh no!’ in her tone as she warned me to keep going. To her obvious surprise, I obeyed her. I could almost see the look of relief in those steel-blue eyes.
‘Had you worried that time, Ginny,’ I said, half to myself. But she heard me. ‘Ginny?’ I fancied her muttering with annoyance. ‘Ginny? Who said you could call me Ginny?’ She directed me stiffly to take the next exit. I was sure she was wrong but decided to do so anyway, just in case. After a short distance I mumbled to myself, ‘Mm, Ginny was right after all.’ I’m sure I heard her whisper, ‘I told you so.’
‘Take the second exit from the roundabout,’ she instructed. I counted carefully and took the third. I pictured her shaking her head and sighing with resignation. I am sure the GPS, stuck firmly as it was to the windscreen, moved marginally and mournfully from side to side.
‘Peerform a U-turn as soon as possible,’ she cried with a note of impatience in her voice. And in case I missed the message, she said it again.
‘Don’t worry, Geneva,’ I told her. ‘I’ll turn at the roundabout. Keep your socks on.’
I swept around the traffic island and headed back in the right direction. She seemed gratified and patiently explained which corner to take next. I obeyed without protest, as I did humbly at the next two intersections as well.
With all this last-minute meekness and docility, I thought I had won her heart, but when I arrived at my destination, she flatly refused to speak to me any more.
I didn’t need her help to get home and left her packed away safely out of the sight of vandals.
I still didn’t know if we were on speaking terms or not. But my wife Vanessa took her out and they seemed to get on all right.
I decided that the following day I would try again. Maybe if I smiled nicely when I set her up she would be more amiable. All I had to do then was turn her on.
And meanwhile, I’ll still keep working on that crucial question. If God is my GPS, how much do I listen? Hopefully, at the end of the journey, with all my wrong turns and false exits, I will still find myself arriving safely at those long-awaited Golden Gates.


Barry Chant

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Barry Chant is a regular speaker at church services, seminars, conferences and conventions. Hundreds of thousands of his books have been sold around the world. He has degrees in arts, theology and ministry, a diploma in education and a PhD in history. He was the co-founder and former president of Tabor College, Australia.



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