I am not handy. I am not mechanically inclined. If something breaks around the house, unless it is ridiculously simple, I’m calling someone to lend a hand. And when it comes to car repairs, forget about it. As a kid, I remember the first time the “Check Engine” light came on in my car. I had heard you were not supposed to drive it much when it comes on, so I pulled the car into the gas station where my brother worked. I popped the hood and tried jiggling a few wires hoping the light would go off. No luck.
My very mechanically inclined brother also fiddled around under the hood several minutes. The light still did not go off. Thinking back on it, I was tempted to deal with it the way Penny on “The Big Bang Theory” deals with her “Check Engine” light. I thought about just driving around hoping it go off by itself. But my brother convinced me that was not a good strategy. Hope is good to have, but it is not a good strategy for dealing with problems. My brother recognized that the light was not the problem. It was an indication of a deeper problem.
To get at that deeper problem, we had to take the car to the dealership. The dealer represents the maker of the car. At the dealership, they have all the factory-trained mechanics and diagnostic equipment needed to understand and deal with the deeper problem. They know just about everything there is to know about the make and model of any car manufactured by the maker.
They have all the parts needed to fix things, or they know how to order them. When the “Check Engine” light comes on in your car, it is a smart move to give the one who represents the maker the responsibility of servicing it. By now I’m sure you’ve figured out where I’m going with this line of thinking. It seems to me there are a whole lot of us today — perhaps even our whole culture — cruising through life with our check engine light on.
We are acutely aware that things are not right. The world around us feels chaotic — out of control. We know there are deep problems that plague us as individuals and as a society. And what’s more, we know that for the most part we are not equipped to deal with these deep, deep problems all by ourselves. That is not to say we are powerless to deal with our individual situations. I don’t believe that for a minute.
I agree whole-heartedly with Dr. Jordan Peterson who suggests we start changing our culture and our traditions by first getting our own lives in order. In the biblical creation stories, our maker brought order out of chaos through the spoken word. Created in God’s image, we too can bring order out of chaos. There are things we can do in our own lives and in the lives of those around us that can and do make things better.
However true that may be, our shining collective “Check Engine” lights are telling us there are problems deep beneath the surface that need attention. At some level, we know these problems are different from the issues we face day-to-day. As glaring as the day-to-day issues of technology, politics and economics may be, they are not the deep problems confronting us today. Our “Check Engine” lights are alerting us to spiritual and moral problems best handled by our maker.
While we may not have the tools, parts, or expertise to solve these problems ourselves, our maker does. But our challenge today is that there seems to be precious little time for us get close to our maker. Work, school, kids, schedules, phones, apps and social media constantly demand our attention. It is harder and harder to spend time with our Father in Heaven.
This is not a new situation. Over 40 years ago, Richard Foster wrote one of the best books ever on spiritual growth called “Celebration of Discipline.” He says, “The greatest problems [we face] are moral and spiritual, and unless we can make some progress in these realms, we may not even survive. This is how advanced cultures have declined in the past.”
The author goes on to say, “Superficiality is the curse of our age. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but deep people.” If Foster thought superficiality was a problem in 1978, he must be shocked at how much time we spend today looking at cat videos on Facebook. The deep people Foster is calling us to become get depth by making an intentional effort to grow spiritually by connecting with our Maker.
And while it may be tempting to do that on an individual basis, history teaches us that it is better to pursue that growth in community. Our local communities of faith are the “dealerships” that represent our maker here and now. Perhaps the silver lining in all the COVID-19 mess we are dealing with is that it has awakened us to the reality that there is more to life than just “things.”
As I write this article, the virus numbers in Utah are surging. On Friday and Saturday, we hit all-time highs with over 1,000 new cases each day. It seems to me that now would be a good time for all of us to get our spiritual “Check Engine” lights serviced at our local houses of worship.
The Bible says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). In this season of uncertainty and unrest, we need to stay connected to each other and our Maker.
Rick Ehrheart is pastor of Mountain of Faith Lutheran Church in Tooele.