Death by GPS, part I

The girls and I traveled, along with my mom and sister, to Dallas this weekend for a girly getaway. On the way home, we turned to the GPS to get us back on the road. “Nancy,” our GPS, kept trying to get us on a highway blocked by large orange barrels and flashing lights.

Nancy continued recalculating, instructing us to “when possible, take a left” and (maybe it was my imagination), but seemed to get more and more angry and insistent the farther away from her path we tread. It’s tempting to take the GPS as an authority, and just follow that route.

A few weeks ago, though, I read this piece on NPR, that discussed our over-reliance on GPS and the flaws in that trust, especially in dangerous locations, like Death Valley, which was so named because of a wagon-train’s ill-fated “shortcut.”

Some have found themselves on long-forgotten logging roads, desert paths, ice roads, and a few each year die because help doesn’t find them in time.

Many people have been misdirected by their GPS systems because of over-reliance on the map, and as Korzybski says, “the map is not the territory.”  The green tree icons are merely representations of reality, a cheap simulation of the richness of nature.

‘Somebody had a map, and somebody said, this is a faster way to get to the gold fields,’ Callagan says. ‘Deep down back in the brain, the common sense says, you know, this is not the wisest thing.’

That’s what makes the difference between our trip home yesterday and dying on an unmarked road in Death Valley: common sense.

I’ve got this idea that following a GPS to your death (turning directly off a bridge into icy waters) is a lot like those who elevate Scripture above the Spirit.

“The Letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Cor 3:6


Legalism is following the map, not being guided through the territory. You can use the Scripture as a guide and SHOULD use it as a guide, but call it common sense, call it intuition, call it what it is, the SPIRIT should discern the best way to proceed.

Look for Part II of Death by GPS next week.

Has your GPS ever led you astray?

How do you know it’s the Spirit and not the Letter that guides you?


27 responses to “Death by GPS, part I

  1. I may have to surrender my geek card for saying this, but I’ve never used a GPS for directions before. I do a pretty good job of getting myself lost, though; I have a major tendency to deviate my course any time I see an exit for something interesting/odd/shiny along the way. It usually results in my trip taking twice as long as it normally would, but I’ve also seen some pretty cool stuff as a result of it.

    Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice and follow him. I think that describes, in a nutshell, how to tell what is guiding us. The more time we spend with him (not just reading about him in scripture, but actual time with him), the more we are able to recognize his spirit and allow him to guide us. Obviously, scripture plays a part in it all, but I think sometimes we are guilty of holding scripture above the One who originally wrote it.

    • I don’t have a GPS, either. It’s my sister’s that she brought along on the trip. If it were up to me, we would have used a map and know-how.

      I like that you’re willing to take the scenic route and stop to smell the atmosphere.

  2. I swear sometimes that Gary (my GPS – Garmin) is trying to kill me. Last fall a student of mine and I went to go check out a retreat center for the Ignite retreat, and Gary took me down a gravel road that was really a driveway, that turned into an almost straight down drop on a huge hill that was washed out gravel and mud. I told my student that we might be sleeping in the car that night at the bottom of this hill that no tow truck could get to. We decided to go for it. Adventures like that make the best stories. =D

  3. A couple years back we were driving through the night from ATL to Austin TX. We missed a turn and started heading southwest when we should have been continuing west. It was like 3:00 in the morning.

    I was determined to stick with the GPS. I mean, it’s a GPS and knows where to direct us! So we followed…

    The GPS lead us to turn off the highway. Then head down a dark road. The dark 2 lane road, turned into a dark 2-lane dirt road. The dirt road turned into an even more narrowed dirt road that cliff’d off on both sides (at least 20 feet below on both sides). I was certain that we were going to die, get ambushed, or crash.

    We ended up finding the correct highway… but it was an unnerving 30 minute detour. 🙂

  4. I was raised in a very ‘religious’ denomination, and, though I never would have admitted it then, I constantly struggled to live up to a works-based salvation. The problem was, of course, there is no such thing. in that sense, the law was killing me… I was dying a spiritual death beneath the weight of requirements and expectations and rules. It wasn’t until I experienced the pure love of Christ that I finally found freedom in His word. I believe the Bible is the perfect, beautiful truth of God, but it must always be studied with the Spirit and through the lens of His love. When I feel guilt (not conviction), judgement (of others or myself), or disheartened, I know I have focused too much on the letter and not on the love…and I immediately make a u-turn!

  5. I agree with Brittany…

    First to the Spirit, striving to the Word…

    “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25

    I know because of the new covenant and power of Jesus that God is still going to love me and I don’t have to feel guilty any more when I mess up. I need to do my best but I know that I can never be perfect and shouldn’t live in fear and guilt.

    Looking forward to Part II

  6. I don’t trust GPS and therefore don’t use it. I use MapQuest but it’s led me astray a time or two so I try to verify directions with Google Maps or something else. And around my own town, I love my handy dandy map!

  7. I don’t have a GPS, but this story reminded me of the episode of the Office where Dwight and Michael are in the car heading somehwere. The road they wanted was just a little further ahead (you could see it from where they were), but the GPS was telling them to turn at that point. Dwight tries to get Michael to go ahead a little further to the road he (and we) could see…but Michael was adament about turning right then and there, because the GPS said to. So, he did. And they ended up in a lake.

  8. When we went on our trip to Virginia, we had the GPC set on shortest distance and not quickest route without nowing it. And we got to see some beautiful scenery. It was a good accident–one I hope to do again.

  9. I once read of a CNet editor who went on vacation with his wife, 4 yr old daughter and a 6 month old baby. On the way back, during a snow storm the GPS took them to an abandoned road with no plowed roads and they spent a week there without help. Their cel phones didn’t work, they ran out of gas keeping themselves warm and eventually she had to breast feed both her children to keep them alive. The dad ended up leaving the car after 7 days to try and find help. Helicopters found the wife and children alive and the body of the dad a few miles away dead, frozen. Yeah, I’m not trusting my GPS that much.

  10. Okay, Moe’s response is crazy.

    We just got a Tom Tom and it is way off…like by 1/4 mile. Really puts things into perspective about whom we put our trust in.

  11. I remember going to an IBM event a few years back, which linked off to Mapquest for directions. We went where Mapquest said, to reach the IBM offices. We arrived at a security-gated landfill in the middle of suburban nowhere. Not making it up, I promise you! After the first few of us managed to get to the correct place (several miles away) and alerted the presenter, he made some calls to get the website link changed to a different mapping site.

    I think I understand what you’re saying between the Scripture and the Spirit, assuming you’re meaning it much as what Brittany said above. The Scripture and the Spirit should agree; if one or the other doesn’t seem to, our understanding of one or the other (or sometimes both) is incorrect, because God doesn’t contradict Himself. Figuring out which one we’re incorrect on can be the challenge.

  12. Last year I went with my wife and her entire family to Branson for a vacation. We drove from little old Junction Texas all the way to Missouri over two days. During that time, since I was the one with the new fancy GPS, I was elected as the lead car. So the family faithfully followed me down long, winding, seemingly endless roads in the hills and woods of Arkansas, across busy highways in Missouri and in frequent U turns because my dang GPS kept getting us lost. So now I just look for road/highway signs and ignore her.

  13. I have never used a gps so I wouldn’t know. But I have used Google Maps linked to gps and that led me astray so I guess that is the same thing. Your question about knowing if it is the Spirit and not the Letter that guides is complicated. I can tell you this that I believe that it is impossible to truly understand Scripture without the Holy Spirit. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 So they go hand in hand….we have no true understanding of the “Letter” unless it is from the Spirit. What came first the chicken or the egg, the Word or the Spirit?…John1:1-4 tells us “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” This all speaks of the Word and Jesus as being one and the same. The Spirit is part of the Trinity-the Father , Son and Holy Ghost, all co-equal. You mention elevating Scripture above the Spirit as not necessarily being a good thing, like following a gps off a cliff (if you are not careful) and yet Psalms 138:2 says this: ” I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” According to this His word holds the highest position. How how does all of that work and yet they are co-equal? I don’t know…I’m not God, thank goodness!

    The problem comes when we try to interpret His Word on our own…without the help of His Spirit. We have to have both…the Letter and the Spirit. They go hand in hand…without the Spirit the Letter makes no sense and we are liable to follow it off a cliff. Without the Letter…well it’s like a gps without the map.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s