A Detour into the Total Perspective Vortex

In the previous post in this series on our Master’s voice, I wrote that: “We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.”  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes great illustrations come from strange fictional places, like Jim Carrey movies and Douglas Adams books for example.

In The Restaurant at the End of the Universe,[1] the sequel to the sci-fi comedy classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams imagines a technology that harnesses full awareness of the universe as a profoundly cruel torture device.  When Trin Tragula invented the “Total Perspective Vortex” to annoy his wife who kept accusing him of blowing things out of proportion, he found that when he tested it on her, “the shock completely annihilated her brain.”  A victim is placed in the TPV and presented with a realistic model of the entire universe, with a tiny dot on top of a tiny dot that says, “you are here.”  He concluded that “a sense of proportion” in such a massive universe would only make someone feel completely insignificant, hopeless, and insane beyond all hope of recovery.  It’s a sci-fi comedy, but still, be careful what you wish for.

Another example from a different angle is the Jim Carrey movie, Bruce Almighty.  This hilarious (but irreverent) comedy is based on Carrey’s character Bruce Nolan raging against God about his frustrating life.  God, played by Morgan Freeman, appears and challenges Bruce to do any better, giving him “the job” for a temporary period to teach him a lesson.  The 3-ish-minute video embedded here is my favorite part of the movie, where Bruce tries to figure out how to deal with his new awareness of all the prayers of the world.

If God thought it was possible, or a good idea, for us to know it all, we would.  After all, even Nipper the dog from the “His Master’s Voice” painting would be distracted and unable to get anything done if he saw this picture, even though it contains only good news:

Our Master speaks to us as our creator, knowing both our limitations, but also what we are capable of as His marvelous creatures if we trust Him!

This post is fourth in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…


[1] Adams, Douglas. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.  (1980).  P. 79

God Tells Gideon a Secret

Photo by Byron Johnson on Unsplash

Today we come back to the topic of our Master’s voice, which began with the painting “His Master’s Voice” and continues through the story of Gideon in the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7.  So far, Gideon has done his best to discern whether God was really talking to him, then set out with an army of 22,000 soldiers, which Gideon faithfully whittled down to only 300, at God’s instruction.  Against an army “like locusts in abundance,” Gideon might have needed a little reassurance, because outside of a miracle[1] his army was going to fail miserably.

That very night, God spoke to Gideon, saying: “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have given it into your hand.  But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.  And you shall hear what they say, and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.[2]  We know Gideon was still afraid because he took Purah and went down into the camp.  We also know that God made provision for Gideon’s fear, instead of counting on Gideon to have perfect faith.  Should Gideon have needed extra reassurance?  No, but God provided what was needed to overcome Gideon’s fear, which was a bit more insight into God’s plan.  Victory in battle is never a matter of how many soldiers are on God’s side, as if spiritual warfare was determined by democracy, but by whose side God is on.

When Gideon snuck into the camp: “behold, a man was telling a dream to his comrade. And he said, ‘Behold, I dreamed a dream, and behold, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian and came to the tent and struck it so that it fell and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.’  And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel; God has given into his hand Midian and all the camp.’”[3]

Victory in battle is never

a matter of how many

soldiers are on God’s side

Some commentators suggest that the “barley” reference means that an inferior army would win, since barley was considered inferior to wheat and other grains, but what we know is that this dream put fear into the Midianite camp and emboldened Gideon to trust God, even though he didn’t understand Him.  Overhearing these words in the camp let Gideon know that that God was at work in far more ways than he could imagine, that victory belongs to the LORD, and that he can trust that God has the knowledge he lacked.  God is trustworthy, even if we don’t fully understand Him.

We only know part of our part in God’s plan.  He knows all of our part, and also all of everyone else’s part.  Each of us are but one of millions of Christians trying to figure out our relationship with God, and we have no idea what those other millions are up to.  But God does, and if we insist God tells us everything before we act, we not only disobey God, but lose out on the opportunity to impact those other lives and see how awesome God’s plan really is!

Our ability to hear and obey our Master’s voice is not a question of complete knowledge, but of wisdom.  Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.”  Since “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight,[4] from the story of Gideon, we learn that God was teaching Gideon to revere Him above any desire to see the “ends of the earth.”  Wisdom keeps us on the path of life but doesn’t always mark it out for us far into the future.  We can’t see the reasons God wants us to trust Him because there is far more at work than we could ever imagine.

The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29


This post is third in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice. More to come…


[1] Or a certain action film directed by Zack Snyder…
[2] Judges 7:9b-11a
[3] Judges 7:13-14
[4] Proverbs 9:10

Giving Gideon the Benefit of the Doubt

Directions please. Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

When we want to hear our Master’s voice, we all have to overcome competing influences, like the lyrics of “Breathing” by Lifehouse say, “I’m trying to identify the voices in my head; God, which one’s you?”  We all need a filter to pick the right voices, or influences, that we base our lives on, and filter out anything that competes for our Master’s attention. The Bible recommends it, as 1 John 4:1 says “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”  Proverbs tells us to make our ear attentive toward wisdom and to incline our heart to understanding, and to treat wisdom and understanding as more valuable than silver and treasures.[1]  But how do we do it?

Gideon from the book of Judges might also have related to Lifehouse’s lyrics.  Gideon needed to filter out the voices, and probably the best-known part of his story is his use of a fleece to do that.  During Gideon’s life, as recorded in the book of Judges, Israel was being oppressed by the Midianites, Amalekites, and others, who would wait until harvest then rob all the produce and livestock.  The angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, saying he would use Gideon to “save Israel from the hand of Midian[2], but Gideon doubted that it was God speaking, and said “show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.”[3]  Gideon may or may not have doubted that God was able to save Israel, but he certainly doubted whether this was really God talking.  Therefore, Gideon needed to “test the spirits,” but how?

Gideon asked God for a sign, which God provided, giving Gideon confidence to break down an altar to Baal and destroy an Asherah.[4] But Gideon asked God for more proof that it was truly Him speaking, and that He was calling Gideon to save Israel.  This extra step was the sign of the fleece, which is worth quoting in full, from Judges 6:36-40.

Then Gideon said to God, ‘If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.’  And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water.  Then Gideon said to God, ‘Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.’  And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.”

A quick survey of study Bibles on this passage brings these comments on Gideon’s “test” of God:

  • “Even though the Spirit has come upon him, Gideon still struggles to trust the Lord.”
  • “The gathering of the tribes should have been sufficient evidence of God’s presence with Gideon, but he wanted a sign that God would do what He had promised.”
  • “Gideon’s desire for a second fleece sign evidenced his less than complete trust in God…He wanted to make certain that the first fleece sign was not merely a coincidence or the result of the natural absorption properties of a fleece.”
  • “Unlike Gideon, we have God’s complete, revealed Word. If you want to have more of God’s guidance, don’t ask for signs; study the Bible”

It’s easy, even encouraged, to criticize Gideon for testing God but if we put ourselves in his place can we do any better, even with the whole Bible?  Sometimes the Bible is clear, as in “you shall not murder,” but what about questions like, “what should I write next?”  Or “how can I encourage a friend?”

Consider that if Gideon had not put out the fleece maybe his story would’ve stopped right there, with him wallowing in doubt.  After all, Israel was being persecuted by a powerful enemy – why take any risks?  However, not knowing with 100% certainty what God’s will is does not mean that doing nothing is the right answer.  If we have a decision to make where the Bible doesn’t seem to provide explicit direction, do we just follow Yogi Berra’s sarcastic advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it”?

I can relate to Gideon because I needed a filter, a reason to take the time to “test the spirits,” because I rarely know for sure what God wants.  Much of the time, I “go with the flow,” and think if I avoid the wrong “flow” I’ll be ok.  I write often not because I’m disciplined, but because I’m not.  Writing is a tangible way to build the spirit-testing filter into my routine, even if it sometimes looks no wiser than Gideon’s fleece.  So, why publish publicly to anyone with an internet browser?  Because I take it more seriously, working on filtering out voices that aren’t useful to me, and wouldn’t be useful to anyone else.  A published blog takes more effort than not writing at all, which is the point, and it helps me move forward.

The Benefit of the Doubt
As I’ve written about Jeremiah and others, the Bible records openly the doubts of God’s people, because we all have a lot in common.  Finding and trusting God’s voice is hard.  If we criticize Gideon for demanding tests from God, are we really just criticizing ourselves and making it even harder?  Our filters are also imperfect – does that mean we do nothing and get nowhere?  Do we give up the call to “test the spirits,” leaving ourselves to “go with the flow” until we find a perfect method?  Like Gideon, we are also prone to take the safe route, when offered what looks like a riskier alternative.  To do something involves risk of not only doing the wrong thing, but also of being criticized for our methods.  Doing nothing is sometimes the right answer, but it is also a choice, and we can’t always be clear why we choose it.

David sometimes encourages us to “wait for the Lord,” and he also wrote “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!”[5] when he was feigning madness before Abimelech, a questionable decision.  We learn about God by experiencing Him, by taking action or by waiting, taking a chance either way, but over time learning that obedience is always the best decision, and also that He catches us when we fall.  We can’t be perfect in this world, but He wants us to try and He will help us grow.

Centuries ago, Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 11:4: “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”  He may well have written to me: “He who observes the trolls will not blog, and he who fears the comment section will not write.”  Or to Gideon: “He who observes the Midianites will not save Israel.”  We all begin our trip to eternity wherever God finds us, where we are not only sinners, but also have a lot to learn about focusing on God’s voice.  What might we all be observing that’s keeping us from sowing the seed of the gospel God has given us?  Sometimes it’s doubt in our filters, in our ability to know for sure.

When we’re afraid of being compared to Gideon and his fleece, know that he is listed in Hebrews 11:32 as a faithful hero, and was received in heaven as a good and faithful servant by the grace earned on the cross by Jesus.  So, let’s take it easier on Gideon and give him the benefit of the doubt.  We are all in this together, including the heroes of the Bible.  It’s God’s faithfulness that matters and He will overcome all of our doubts.

In the meantime, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13a

This post is second in a series that started with this post on His Master’s Voice, and continues here.


[1] Proverbs 2:1-4
[2] Judges 6:14
[3] Judges 6:17
[4] Judges 6:28
[5] Psalm 34:8

Jesus Does Not Judge a Book By Its Cover

Beginning today, Sunday posts on Driving Toward Morning will focus on guest content.  I didn’t write the fictional letter below, which is attributed at the end.


To: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafter Carpenter Shop, Nazareth

From: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for management positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

It is the staff’s opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in the background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interests above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,

Jordan Management Consultants


I found this made-up letter in the introduction to Warren Wiersbe’s book on 1 Corinthians, Be Wise: Discern The Difference Between Man’s Knowledge and God’s Wisdom.  Ken Baugh, who wrote the introduction, says “Even though this is a humorous account, it drives home the radical difference between human and divine wisdom.”  Baugh found it “on the internet,” where it is often attributed to Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195

Broken, But Not Beyond Repair

Actual disaster footage. Viewer discretion advised.

A doctor friend of mine said there’s an inside joke that “if you put two bones alone in a room together, they’ll find each other.”  I heard this after breaking my left collarbone in the summer of 2011.  Even when I was young, I wasn’t a great athlete, but I did always hustle.  So after a decade of not doing much athletically, I joined my work softball league and thought at least I would try hard and have fun.  But when I hit a weak ground ball to the shortstop and decided to “hustle,” disaster saw its opportunity.  The fields we played on were poorly maintained, with holes where the hitters stand.  Instead of doing the smart thing and stopping after I tripped in this hole, I tried to keep running (because hustle!) and soon ended up falling hard on my shoulder with a loud snapping sound.  The picture above is my actual X-ray from that night.

This isn’t a great memory, but it’s also a reminder of the miracle of healing. I had the option of surgery or just letting it grow back together, and I chose letting it heal.  However, it didn’t “just” get fixed. It was by design and no accident.

My collarbone was broken clean through, with the two sides of the bone not even touching any more.  I could feel them moving around independently.  When I think about the millions of “decisions” the cells in these bones, interacting with the tissue around them, had to make to do something they’ve never done before, I have to be convinced something beyond my own anatomy and genetic history was at work.  An impersonal evolution may have never seen these bones break in just this way before, so how did the bones know what to do?  I certainly wasn’t aware of telling these bones what to do.  They didn’t “just” fix themselves.

I can only credit the creative power of my Maker, along with David, who wrote:
For you formed my inward parts;
            you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
            my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
            intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
            the days that were formed for me,
            when as yet there was none of them.” – Psalm 139:13-14

Everyday Miracles
Miracles happen every single day in every human body, yet we often miss them or refuse to call them miracles.  Maybe we do that because calling them miracles would mean we have to give credit to the power behind the miracle, and we’d rather not.  Ever since Adam and Eve looked at God’s good creation and decided they’d rather make their own decisions, mankind has persisted in acting like bones that would rather grow apart than follow their Creator’s design.  As a result, the world is broken into billions of personalities that don’t know how to connect, that don’t know how to knit agape love into the trillions of decisions they make, and interactions they have, each day. 

We all have a choice in every moment: do we “just” do whatever we think is best and expect the right outcome to “just” happen, or do we look at nature and think that maybe the Person who knows how to make bones fix themselves knows how to guide our lives to the best outcome.

Our heavenly Father wants to knit us together once again, in a world that isn’t broken and where we aren’t broken.  None of us are beyond repair, and our Maker will restore us if we let Him.  Every human being in history has been bad at love, except One, and He is calling to every one of us to trust Him.  “Just Do It” is not a good motto.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
            but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
He keeps all his bones;
            not one of them is broken.” – Psalm 34:19-20