Living in South Africa I’ve gotten used to long drives. For example, non-stop it’s about 17 hours from my home in Cape Town to Johannesburg, so the trip takes 2 days.
It’s the same going to my wife’s family in Namibia. Again, about 17-18 hours drive.
On the Namibian road, like the one in the feature picture, you can drive for a very long time in a very straight line and not see another vehicle. It’s largely deserted except in the cities, and much of that is desert like the movies show it. Not all, but a lot.
The first time I drove up was exhausting. Thankfully the car had aircon or I’d be a puddle. Even with it running full we were hot. There’s little or no cell phone coverage and no emergency phones on the roadside. If you break down or have an accident you have to hope someone else comes along, and that they stop.
There’s a lot to be said for emptiness. It encourages conversation between travellers. It also can mean long silences when you run out of topics. Music is helpful as a distraction.
The road is hypnotic. The emptiness unceasing and the landscape unchanging for hundreds of miles at a time.
It sets me thinking about life as a Christian.
Christianity isn’t a sprint. At least, it’s not meant to be. It’s a marathon and then some.
There’s a lot of emptiness in much of our road though. Far more than God intended.
Jesus said He came to give us abundant life, but so often it feels like walking a straight road through the desert. It feels like nothing changes. There’s as much ahead after ten hours walking as there was when you set out. Only now you’re hot, sweaty, tired and sick of walking.
We’re supposed to walk alongside one another, but the road feels empty. My wife and I have different paths even after over a decade of marriage. There are things about one another we just don’t “get”. Every couple has those things, and it’s only a problem if you let it be. I know couples who lost sight of why they were together because of their differences and split up. I know others who embraced them and tried to join in with each other’s stuff – sometimes it worked, sometimes they split up. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.
So the road feels empty.
And there’s a BIG difference between “empty” and “open”.
And open road holds possibilities, hope and adventure. I’m a biker and I love the open road, especially if there’s nothing else around. I used to go out for a ride when I lived in England, just to ride. The road was open and I just went. Sometimes I was home an hour later, sometimes five or six. I loved it.
But an empty road, a road that never changes, is a road that can break your spirit.
The road starts with something life-changing.
For me it started at 2:55pm Wednesday 20th February 1985. A phone call. “Robin’s dead”. Nobody else I know has walked that path. I was not quite 13 years old. Robin was younger, taken by a moment of stupidity and childish impetuosity when he swung out in front of a driver.
There have been times on my road where I’ve been through bustling activity. Those I can deal with. But the emptiness between them, even after 31 years, can be soul-destroying.
Other things hit people and set them off on their empty road. Cancer, addiction, AIDS, divorce, marriage (if it’s the wrong choice), bereavement, so many other things that can set us off down empty roads.
Our focus has become our own walk. We don’t pay attention to what’s going on around us.
So our road feels empty.
But it’s an illusion. We’re surrounded by others, we just don’t see them. There are always people with us. We just have been conditioned into a self-centred existence. Western society is incredibly selfish. Not so long ago in some of the European cultures around the Mediterranean you could buy a house with a “generational” mortgage over a century. Your children and their children would inherit the house and it would become their home. Now the American culture of self has infected it and that is changing society. The concept of a “single” European culture is laughable, except it’s being rammed down everyone’s throat. Dire warnings from the far left about leaving the EU and from the far right about staying. Apparently if Britain stays it will cripple the economy, cause unemployment and weaken the currency, whereas if Britain leaves it will cripple the economy cause unemployment and weaken the currency.
Both sides make out the other is an empty road, desolate and bleak with nobody around to help us.
That’s what is happening in the Church. We’re conforming to the pattern of this world instead of being transformed by renewing our minds in the light of the Holy Spirit. America is leading the way down this path. The “socialist” left is almost indistinguishable from the “evangelical” right these days. Policy debates have been replaced with personal slanders and jibes. And yet somehow this country with more debt per capita than Greece is the one everyone wants to be like.
Because that really is an empty road, and the trip is led by the vacuous and incapable who rely on charisma not character. They are empty vessels. When I was a kid we travelled by train a lot. I used to love watching the freight trains with the oil cars come past, but you could tell which ones had oil in them. They were quieter. Empty vessels make a lot of noise. Useless, worthless noise.
Like politicians from all sides. I’m sure we could reduce Global Warming by simply banning politicians from speaking. The hot air they generate…
But this isn’t a political blog, so I’ll stop on that track.
We need to open our eyes, or rather we need to get back to letting God open our eyes. We need to see the people around us, take time to really see them. You know, like the Early Church did. All the people had everything in common so none were in need Acts tells us. They met in each other’s homes, saw to it they were all fed. Those who had gladly gave up everything to provide for those who didn’t. They had substance.
Today we have hot-air preachers in mostly empty (and draughty) old churches that need the hot air to heat them.
But there’s a fire coming. This emptiness can’t go on forever.
In the 1700s, Wilberforce stood against the “greed is good” element in Parliament and fought them tooth and nail until he won and slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire. In the 1800s, Lincoln stood fast against the South and saw the end of the Civil War and delivered the Emancipation Proclamation, but never got to see the results in his lifetime. JFK stood strong against entering Vietnam. After Chamberlain’s failure to stop Hitler with words, Churchill led the Allied thrust against the Nazis’ tyrannical rule until it was wiped out. Mandela stood fast against Apartheid.
In every generation men and women have stood as a remnant for God when greed has overwhelmed society. Fullness of character battling against the empty rhetoric and hopeless roads.
We have companionship on our journey. Jesus is beside us every step of the way. He makes sure our roads are never empty.
We just need to open our eyes…