Many old, salty sea captains have managed to sail their ships back to the safety of harbor lights with nothing more than a magnetized sewing needle balanced on a cork, floating in a cup of water. That was the only compass they needed to get back to the comforts of home and hearth. And while it is touted that a compass never lies, it can deceive you. The direction of north that your compass gives you just might be wrong. Compasses point toward the magnetic north pole, located near Ellesmere Island in north Canada. But true north is not there. It is over seventy miles away. Depending on where in the world you are located, the difference between where your compass is pointing and where you are in relation to true north can be considerable.
When I was just a kid, I learned that it was possible to take even the finest compass and make it tell you that north was anywhere you wanted it to be. All you needed was a cheap refrigerator magnet close by, and you could perform miracles. No longer would the needle of the compass point to earth’s magnetic north, but it would point to wherever the refrigerator magnet was placed in close proximity. Of course, the accuracy and utility of the compass was completely spoiled. No longer would it perform the function for which it was designed. No salty sea captain would set his cup of water, cork, and magnetized sewing needle on top of a refrigerator magnet and expect to sail safely home.
Through the years I have been concerned about how easy it is for folks to employ their handy refrigerator magnet to situations of life and truth. It doesn’t take much for someone to slip his refrigerator magnet onto the table and proclaim that north is precisely where he says it is. I have become increasingly bothered with the proliferation of relative truth and the difficulty of determining “true north.” While growing up, I used to wonder why glib politicians were referred to as having magnetic personalities. Today, I think I better understand. With their handy little refrigerator magnet, they can change the compass direction of north two, three, or four times in a day—or even within a debate. But where precisely is true north?
I was traveling in the Bulgarian city of Haskovo, performing a medical Needs Assessment Study for Project C.U.R.E., and I struck up a conversation with one of the health officials, a former officer of the Soviet Union. We began talking about what it had been like to live in the country prior to the collapse of the Soviet regime. “Everything was relative,” he said. “You never knew just what to expect as ‘truth.’ You could only depend on what you were told at the moment and you were expected to respond accordingly. Everything was relative with no unattached or independent ‘absolutes.’”
Then he related a story to explain his point. “There was a certain clock shop on the main street of our town. The man who operated the shop had a good reputation in the community. He was conscientious and kind and knew a lot about clocks. On the back wall of his shop, he had on display a large and beautifully hand-carved clock with an expensive and precise set of works inside. It was, indeed, a masterpiece and kept very accurate time. The clock man loved the clock and was very proud of it.”
My new friend went on to tell me, “Everyday an important-looking man walked by the clock shop. He would stop momentarily and study the clock on the back wall. He would then pull out his own pocket watch that was attached to his jacket by a handsome chain. He would reset his pocket watch, place it back in his jacket, and hurriedly walk away. One day the clock man stepped out of his store and stopped the man as he reset his pocket watch. ‘Do you admire the clock on my wall? I see you stop every day and look at it before you walk on.’
‘Yes,’ the man said, ‘I love your clock, and I know that it is very accurate. I have a very important job. I work at the large factory by the river, and I am in charge of blowing the whistle precisely at eight o’clock. I check the time on your clock every day so that I will know exactly when to blow the whistle.’
The clock man gasped. His mouth fell open as he stumbled with his words. ‘You are the man who blows the whistle each morning? But I set my clock each day by your whistle!’”
Here's the advice that I would offer to myself and all my friends. Don’t get caught up in depending upon relative truth, but diligently seek, as if for the finest treasure, truth that is unattached, loosened from, and non-manipulated by the agendas of this world.