The joys of location-sharing!
“Dad! – my daughter instantly whatsapped – You’re such a stalker!” 😂😂😂 In fact, I was only asking her during the recent extreme heatwave whether the supermarket she was visiting had air-conditioning. However, this particular supermarket was just down the road from Paris while I was at home 500 miles away in Aughton. In fact, I was following her on google maps, using the location-sharing facility, I hasten to add with her permission. And for the next six weeks I was able to follow her and her family in real time as they toured southern Europe in their VW Californian. Always fascinating, sometimes scary as when they encountered the legendary Stelios pass over the Alps. And now, as I type, they are heading back home up the picturesque M6. This is light years from those far-off days when we used to send postcards, which invariably arrived some weeks after our return home. Remember when abroad, you had to rely on yesterday’s newspapers, airmailed in, for the news? Once you crossed the Channel you were effectively incommunicado.
Now it’s a cascade of images via social media, even video conversations from some far-off location. “Just look at this sunset!” Welcome to our brave, new media-savvy world. Of course, it’s not just one way. My daughters – if they so wish – can follow me. Wherever I go, they know where I am. And for the record, I have nothing to hide, from them or from Google. (In the unlikely event of visiting Anfield, I will – of course – turn location-sharing off). And its not just my daughters who follow me. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” (Psalm 139:2f) The Psalmist finds it a huge comfort to know that God knows exactly where he is, even what he is thinking. Wherever he may be, however dark or distant, God will always be there with him. “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” (Psalm 139:7f) This is a source of huge reassurance: there are no limits to God’s oversight. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” (Psalm 139:6) This may be the case for the Psalmist: he is overjoyed that God knows him through-and-through, and furthermore knows exactly where he is and what he is doing. But this isn’t the case for everyone, by no means. Starting with Adam and Eve, we may prefer to hide from God. We resent that he knows where we are and what we are doing. We just want to get on with our own lives without his constant oversight. We want to get on with our sinning even, undisturbed. As ever the gospel of John is black and white: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). So when it comes to God’s attention, can we turn off location-sharing? Strangely we can, because God respects our choice. As journalist Mignon McLaughlin once confessed: “I've been hiding from God, and I'm appalled to find how easy it is.” Remember from Jesus’ parable, that the father made no attempt to hold onto his son and certainly this prodigal son made sure that no-one, above all his father, knew his location in this far-off country. He went off-grid, successfully. So how do we turn off our location-sharing as far as God is concerned? There are certain rules: avoid other Christians, keep away from church, don’t go near a Bible. Stay busy, seek distractions. Focus on being in control. Make life all about you. Above all, even in extremis, whatever your situation, DO NOT PRAY. God can pick up your signal in a moment; he can locate you in an instant. Of course, the whole idea of Adam, of us, hiding from God is laughable. We can think we are hiding from God, when every angel in heaven can see perfectly clearly where we are. Furthermore, as author Cynthia Voigt confesses: “Hiding under the bed doesn't make the worry stop.” For the reality is that hiding from God doesn’t help. For some it’s a battle but for everyone it’s a relief to say to God: “Here I am!” For the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us – wherever we may be. “There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still,” proclaims Corrie Ten Boom from Ravensbrück. When we surrender to Christ, he does not stalk us but travels with us, guiding, encouraging, protecting, even rescuing. His presence makes all the difference, a presence he calls us to share. For when we say with the prophet Isaiah “Here I am,” we make ourselves available for his Kingdom. “Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)