If you have spent any time around Christians or the church you probably have heard someone say the Bible is the road-map for Christians. The Bible, they say, tells us how to get to where we are going, complete with detailed instructions on the best way to travel through our lives. I don’t know about you, but that never made much sense to me. Personally, I don’t find road-maps in the Bible, I find stories, wonderful, complex, holy stories.
Recently, I heard that phrase again. “The Bible is our road-map. All we need to do is follow what the Bible says.” Once again, I puzzled over that statement and a blog entry was born…
A road-map is designed to help us get from one place to another, typically in the most direct manner. Find a map of the Interstate Highway system and we can plan our route from New York to Seattle in 15 minutes. It will be fast, efficient, and easy. We won’t be bothered much by anything located between New York and Seattle. We will be in our private car, listening to our personally selected music , our climate control precisely set, our cruise control on, our seats comfortably adjusted, with our beverages in our convenient individual cup holders. We can make our plan and never detour, never get lost. That just doesn’t sound like the life of faith described in the Bible to me.
And so I began to wonder, if the Bible is a map of some kind, what kind of map is it? A state map? The bus route? A map of the world? A star chart? Is it a map of the fire exits out of the building? Perhaps, the Bible is most like a topographic map, a map for a different kind of travel.
Topographic maps require close, careful study. The more time we invest, the more we discover. Topographic maps show us the terrain, the high places and the bogs. They show us which rivers have rapids and waterfalls. They tell us which lakes last all year and which dry up in the heat of summer. The map shows us where to find springs and wells.
The contour lines on the map tell us how steep the climb up the hills will be and where we will find a gently sloping path into the valley. Glaciers and scrub land, forest and swamp are each accurately noted.
The trails of those who have traveled this way before are marked for those who follow. The paved road, the unimproved road, the scenic tour are all on the map. The foot trail, the switchbacks, the tough climb, and the dead end are on this map as well. If we study the map we may discover there is more than one way to get there from here.
It helps us find the good campsites, where there is enough space and fresh water for us and the anyone else on the trail. These are the places where people can gather safely, tell their stories, and rest for a while. We can also find the abandoned settlements, imagine what drew people there and ponder what went wrong. We have the map because someone came here first, paid attention to what was around them, and left a careful record for us. The map can’t tell us everything we need to know, but it helps us keep our bearings.
It seems to me the Bible is most like a topographic map. We are shown the lay of the land. We are given the contours and textures of the land by those who went before us. They left us the record of travels through mountains and valleys. They show us where people wondered off the path and point the way back. Dangerous cliffs, dry wells and dead ends are all marked out for us. But also, we find where the rough places turn into a plain, the way out of a canyon, and the place good, fresh water can always be found.
We must chart our own way through the wilderness and find our own path, but we needn’t travel blindly. We have the Bible, carefully and lovingly written, handed on from traveler to traveler. It’s more concerned with safe passage than speedy travel. And if we are willing, there are fellow travelers around, companions for the journey.
Topographic maps and the Bible, each in their own way, help us appreciate the land around us and they help us to walk with intention and care. They give us the courage to explore the country we are passing through. Because it is as much about the trip as it is about the destination.