About to wax poetic about sailing a barque down the stream of life (this of course taking place while lost in the Canadian wilderness with a lonely loon’s haunting cry off in the distance), I had the presence of mind to check my dictionary for the definition of the word ‘barque.’ Up till now I held the idea that a barque was a canoe made of tree bark, North American Indian style. True, poets sometimes use the word to refer to any boat, but alas the technical meaning is that of a type of 19th century sailing boat. We live and learn!
When I was a young and unconverted man I attempted to hoist a sail to catch a fresh breeze in life. A change of tack seemed good! I thought that Canada couldn’t be any worse than Scotland. Having given up Loch Lomond for Lake Ontario I tried to sum up in song some of my thoughts: Destination? Destination unknown! I didn’t know where, I didn’t know where I was going. Just a lonely boy on a lonely road, with no highway code, and no map in my hand!
‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going’ Hebrews 11:8. There’s poetry here, even a rhyme: ‘Not knowing where he was going.’ Mind you, prior to this Abraham had been met by the Chief Poet, the Supreme Wordsmith, the Word Himself, the Davar, the Logos, for, ‘The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward”’ Genesis 15:1.
Abraham may not have known where he was going, but the pre-incarnate Christ walked with him. David, in the Shepherd Psalm, wrote, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me, Your rod and Your staff comfort me’ Psalm 23:4. The Angel of the LORD walked with Israel in her wilderness wanderings. He walked in the fiery furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He walked with the men on the road to Emmaus. He met Saul on the road to Damascus. He met me in a basement in Winnipeg on the broad way that leads to destruction.
From before the beginning God has mapped out the journey His creation will take. We cannot escape. The word of the LORD had come to Jonah. He was to proclaim the good news to Nineveh, that God would spare them and their city if they would turn to Him in repentance. Jonah’s ‘barque’ disembarked as he attempted to sail away from his duty to God as a prophet. ‘But the LORD sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up’ Jonah 1:4. Crises grab people’s attention!
A crisis is an unplanned event. They take us off the map. Your bark canoe has been holed as you speed though the rapids toward Niagara Falls. Your paddle becomes the symbol of your weakness, an extension of your helplessness. The rising mist ahead grows more ominous as you try to peer into your fate. The roar of the hungry lion’s den grows ever louder. It wants to engulf you, to crush your bones before you reach the bottom of its den. The distant drums intensify in your breast as you look for an escape. There is nowhere to turn as you are being sucked into the great abyss. You cry for help. Nobody hears. You look to the shore. You look to the sky. You look to God and make a deal with Him – if He would only snatch you from the jaws of Leviathan.
You awaken on the shore. Soaking. Sobbing. Shivering. Safe. You wonder if it really was Christ who saved you. So you ask Him. Your tears of self-pity turn into tears of gratitude. You begin to follow Him as did Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, Daniel and all the rest before you. Thus you have been translated out of the kingdom of darkness and now live in the Kingdom of Light, the New World, a place off the map. Your old friends think you’ve become a bit strange. They don’t understand you. Your new friends are your brothers and sisters in Christ. They understand.
A whole new vista has opened up. The old way is behind. Before you lies the Promised Land. The good things you see and experience now are tokens of the bliss to come. The offspring and the land God promised to Abraham is symbolic of Christ. In Christ, like your father Abraham, you are now ‘the heir of the world’ (Rom. 4:13). ‘The meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace’ Psalm 37:11. You are now at peace with God. He has stilled the waves and the storm. He leads your barque beside still waters. He is your shield, your exceedingly great reward by grace through faith. Yes, God is found off the map in Christ. We learn and live!