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The slightest degree

In a hazardous journey, the right captain and a sextant are crucial

Issue: "Not over till it's over," Nov. 1, 2008

In 1914 Ernest Henry Shackleton, with 27 men, led the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition with the intention of crossing the continent from Weddell Sea to McMurdo Sound, 2,000 miles. In 1915 their ship Enterprise was crushed by pack ice after drifting for 10 months, forcing the band of explorers to camp on floes for more than a year.

When no safe footing remained, they took to three lifeboats, finally reaching the uninhabited Elephant Island. There Shackleton left 22 men behind and took five to attempt to row the tiny James Caird across 850 miles of choppy seas to the South Georgia Island whaling station. Gray skies rendered the sextant nearly useless. A mere half of one degree off and the expedition would miss the island by hundreds of miles. They made it.

Regarding another adventure, Alexander Solzhenitsyn ponders how the 13 American colonies could in 200 years have veered so far off course, finding themselves bogged down in "the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness." He traces the problem to a small "sextant error" unnoticed at the ship of state's first sailing:

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"How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present debility? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. . . . This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. . . . We are paying now for the mistakes which were not properly appraised at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in politics and social reforms" (Harvard, 1978).

Small mistakes at the start of a voyage translate into great wide misses of destinations. What is true of polar expeditions and nation building is true in individual lives. We may have yards and yards of good doctrine, but to no avail if there be one rotten link of unbelief.

But let us speak of better stories, like the one I learned from a Christian counselor, and pass on to you with permission: A woman counselee writes:

I was listening to Elisabeth Elliot one day.

"Is your husband an enemy?" Elisabeth said. My ears grew large to listen.

"Does your husband feel like your enemy?"

"Yes."

"What does the Bible say about how to treat your enemies? . . . Love them. Do good for them. Pray for them."

"Do good," I thought. Could it really be that simple?

I set my mind to do one good thing for George every day. In the name of the Lord. I couldn't do it for George, but I could do it in obedience to God. George is my husband, and this is the Lord's command to me.

I started with a spice cake, George's favorite dessert. Simple enough. But as I did these things, I just became so broken. Had I really been so, so selfish, and thoughtless all these years, that these little things could mean so much? Gradually, I saw my true heart as George had seen it all these years-so cold and bitter and awful. Was I really as bad as this? Yes. Yes.

Finally I was broken. Over time, compassion for George replaced bitterness. And dare I say it, even love begins to grow. Glimpses of delight? Yes, even that. God began to show me how He loves George too, and just how foolish I have been. I feel like Isaiah 61 is coming to pass: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: beauty for ashes; gladness for mourning; a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

A woman on a hazardous journey. The seas are choppy and the way is narrow. God commands, "You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left" (Deuteronomy 5:32). The slightest degree off in either direction, and the woman would have missed her joy. Let the Captain be Christ and the sextant be faith.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to aseu@worldmag.com.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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