I’m reading Socrates in the City. The book is a compilation of transcripts from events that writer/speaker Eric Metaxas plans and introduces. (You can read more about Socrates in the City at their website.) I’ve just finished reading Bishop N.T. Wright’s talk. Near the beginning of his time, he referenced an editorial by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in which he uses a striking pair of visual images to look at leadership on a large scale.
In the Jewish Scriptures (our “Old Testament”) the people of Israel were being led by God Himself, the pillar of fire and cloud. Sacks likened this to a GPS system, the kind one has in the car. God would tell them what was going to happen and where they were going. Every time the Israelites would prove to be willful and contrary, saying, “But we don’t want to do that! We don’t want to go there!” God would in effect sigh and say, “Recalculating.” He knew the destination He intended for them, but the route they were choosing was much more roundabout and rocky.
The other leadership style Sacks referenced was that of a certain species of ants who, when lost, will simply follow the ant in front on the assumption that somewhere up ahead someone knows the way. There are cases (he says) of whole colonies starving by walking around in circles, each ant following the ant in front of him. I did a quick web search and found that he’s correct. The phenomenon is known as a “death spiral”.
Bishop Wright was much struck with the question that ended the rabbi’s editorial:
Which are we more like? Are we more like the children of Israel, maybe getting it wrong, but maybe still just about listening for a voice? Or are we like those ants just merely following the ant in front, everybody hoping that if we follow where the fashion is going intellectually, societally, culturally, or whatever, then we’ll all get somewhere, while in fact all we are doing is going round in circles?
This is a great question, both for Christians today, and for citizens of any free country–certainly for Americans. To whom are we listening? Who is our authority? Most of us are not smart enough, not objective enough, not strong or self-reliant enough to TRULY march to our own drummer…and those who do are often mad or at least eccentric. We need to ask, “Who am I following? And WHY?” What is their credential that makes them trustworthy? Or am I just walking along assuming that someone somewhere knows what’s best so I don’t need to worry about it?
Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And this pair of images suggest that the unexamined path is not worth travelling. It’s just not safe.
Who are you following?
“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you,saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21
”My sheep listen to My voice; I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27