I realize plenty of people believe God stopped using signs a long time ago. That's why it's so hard to know what He wants, they argue. Moses had it easy--who wouldn't know to follow something as obvious as a pillar of fire? Yet he still managed to stay lost in the desert for 40 years. Not since the book of Daniel, they say, has God announced His intentions with a giant hand writing instructions on a wall.
But signs do exist--a friend of mine calls this "mild interventionism in a free-will world." Many see, and even recognize, modern-day revelations. Deciding to submit and follow them is another matter altogether.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago as I walked to work, self-absorbed as usual with such weighty, consuming issues as why I cannot figure out a career path, or why someone is playing kickball with my emotions, or why John Hoffmayer won the sixth grade student-council presidency when anyone could see I was eminently more qualified for a political career. These are the sorts of thoughts that can develop into a full-blown pity party in your head, with your id and ego throwing confetti and dancing to "Fire and Rain" and everyone eating tubs of ice cream and commiserating.
From within this fog of recriminations and cries for justice, a heaven-sent message manifested itself: LET GO.
The words appeared on the back of a blue Mazda Miata, which was sort of odd because, growing up near Detroit, I always assumed that God was an American car kind of guy. For a moment, I felt like the woman in the Yellow Pages commercial who finds the ad on the side of a bus changing to correspond with her thoughts. As I connected the command to the toxic musings that had been filling my brain, I could only lean my head back to laugh. God knows me very well; there's no point in using subtlety.
It could be argued that this message was not a heavenly apparition, of the burning bush variety, but merely a vanity plate on the back of a car that happened to be parked along my route to work. I find these personalized license plates, frankly, to be traffic hazards--I have driven miles, paying no attention whatsoever to fellow drivers or traffic signals, instead staring intently at the bumper in front of me, only slowly realizing that "EIP NYJ" doesn't have any secret meaning.
Most people, however, live their lives at the other extreme. In our sensory-overloaded world, some complain that God's will is too vague, His delivery not flashy enough. How can we do His bidding if He doesn't let us know what it is? An ad during the Super Bowl--now that would be catchy. Planting a suggestion in a friend's comment, a book passage, or even our own thoughts is too easily rationalized away by saying it wasn't clear.
In truth, it really doesn't matter whether a sign is faint or glaring; it only prods us to acknowledge what we already know in our hearts. Jonah, for instance, wasn't unclear about the mission God had in mind for him: he simply didn't want to obey. Having Jonah swallowed by a whale and then spit up at his appointed destination was God's less-than-subtle way of making a point.
Similarly, when the vanity plate interrupted my morning walk, I took note, but I did not yield in the fight over control of my heart and mind. I'm getting the message, I assured God. I know what You want, but I happen to like obsessing and I'd rather not give it up just now, thank you very much.
I saw the sign. And eventually I will let go. Until then, I'm staying away from large fish.