Till you get to the core expression of any truth there’s usually more hidden inside waiting to be discovered.
This was illustrated in a conversation we had many years ago with a tribesman about “his neck of the woods”. All of us involved in the conversation lived in a village in his neck of the woods on a grassy savannah surrounded by high hills to the East and West. Those of us not native to his neck of the woods were aware of certain realities of which he was not yet aware. We knew that we lived in a certain sovereign country and that 20 or so kilometers to the East the border of another sovereign country zigzagged through the tops of more hills. Things over there looked pretty much like where we stood that day. The difference over there was that the droplets, rivulets and then tiny streams of water soon to become roaring torrents eventually made their way into the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea depending on which side of the hill you stood.
As we talked about villages and old garden sites, names of streams and places where skirmishes between villages had happened long ago we decided to seize the opportunity and give our friend his first lesson about sovereign countries and their borders.
He did already know that toward the East more of his kind lived and that very far away in that direction lived people not like him and who spoke an unintelligible language. He knew they were very many and thought of them as living in one big village. He even referred to those people by their country name but had no idea what the name really meant. Other than a few nearby villages most of his people who lived over that way were his mortal enemies so other than carrying out raids he didn’t venture far in that direction.
To the West and North, closer in, lived more of his kind with whom his people had recently made peace. Far away towards the West and North were other people whose language was equally unintelligible. He knew they were very many as well. Other than walking for days on end the only way to get to our friend’s neck of the woods was to fly in on a small airplane. In recent times more airplanes bringing visitors had come from the West and North. And that was because our warrior friend’s neck of the woods belonged to the sovereign country spread out in that direction.
We began explaining the concept of boundaries, national boundaries, by pointing out that everything and everyone from a certain familiar stream to the East belonged to those far away people and that everything and everyone to the West and North of that stream including where we were standing belonged to those far away people. He stood silent for a few moments with a shocked look on his face and then managed to get out, (being interpreted) “but all this time I thought this neck of the woods belonged to us!”)
Up to this time in the history of his people having no knowledge of national boundaries hadn’t been an issue. Change however was fast bearing down upon this jungle man and his people and soon they would be forced to deal with a horizon of life much bigger and much more complicated than they could possible imagine.
Yes, it was their neck of the woods but a very much bigger ‘woods’ existed they knew very little about and had no real way of understanding in the short term because their life experience had not given them a model by which to measure it.
In time our family left that valley and our many tribal friends who lived there. Some years later we went back for a visit and right away noticed the evidence of how life had been changed forever for our friends. Probably most noticeable was what had been put in place to mark the people of the valley as belong to the West and North. Now everybody had I.D. cards. Well not everybody. One very unhappy man had somehow missed out on receiving his. There were any number of factors that may have contributed to his having been left out. He begged me to help him. Was he frustrated because without the card he didn’t know who he was and felt lost till he had an identity? Well, actually his frustration had a more practical explanation. The people of the valley viewed their cards more than anything else as a kind of credit card. Having an I.D. card helped a great deal if you wanted to be included when the authorities gave out goodies. And of course being left out was not a good thing. Unfortunately I was powerless to help the man.
I see a spiritual application in the unfolding of this story. The sovereign creator and owner of all people and all things, the far greater ‘woods’, offers something which makes an earthly I.D. card pale into insignificance. It is the creator’s message of ‘Good News’ that is very literally ‘life saving’. Life saving, because anyone and everyone without the message will be lost. People like our warrior friend and his relative, the forlorn guy without an I.D. tend to be very spiritually aware but completely unaware that their traditional understanding of the spiritual keeps them from what they so desperately need. The spirituality they live by is utter blackness and death of the soul and spirit. For the creator’s good news to bring the light they so desperately need, it’s imperative the good news be heard and understood
If people like our friends don’t hear and understand the message as the Creator gave it they will eventually hear bits and pieces here and there and try to make sense of it by adding it to their traditional understanding of the spiritual. That will not have been the creator’s good news and their spiritual darkness will be as great as ever.
The warrior would never know the creator and the real owner of his neck of the woods. His relative will forever be looking for and never finding that illusive I.D. Both will miss out on knowing the powerful and generous owner. Instead of living in the creator’s kingdom of light and life they will be condemned to an eternity of darkness and death.
Well, the good news is that the folks in the story did have the opportunity to hear and understand “God’s Good News” about his Son the Lord Jesus.
Please pray for God’s messengers around the world who in spite of difficulty, hardship, discouragement and against seemingly impossible odds, invest years of hard and thankless work doing whatever it takes to make sure the people in whatever ‘neck of the woods” they minister in ‘hear and understand the message”. Amen!