A friend of mine tells the story of traveling in Ireland while coming upon an Irish sign post with eleven differently aimed arrows. She was also trying to follow directions from a map. In complete confusion she threw the map to her husband and said, “You figure it out!” Soon an Irishman appeared walking toward the open car window. “Are ya lost?” “Not exactly. We are just having trouble figuring out the map.” He smiled a wonderful smile and said, “First thing, never mind the map.” My friend noted that the Irishman’s comment was “good advice on the spiritual journey.” It is also good advice if you are using the Bible as a map to understand the nature of God. The trouble is that there are many maps in the Bible, some of which contradict the others. If you try to follow them all you will be completely confused.

The “maps” in the Bible go from the tribal religion of the early Jewish tradition with its commandments and multiple rules to the mystical understanding of God in John’s Gospel. The maps will tell you what to eat and what not to eat, how offenders are to be punished, whether there is one God or many gods, how to love including the problem of loving your enemies, etc. Since the Bible is a developing understanding of the nature of God written from the experience of diverse people, there will be many interpretations and a variety of maps. If you plan to follow any of them literally you’re going to hit another Irish sign post with eleven differently aimed arrows.

We can read the Bible as a way to understand other people’s interpretations of the nature of God which can be helpful for us. But on occasion we need to let go of the “maps” and listen to what God may be saying to one’s heart. Are we to become lovers of God and one another, or follow a God who is nothing more than a domineering parental figure? Can we learn to respect others by respecting the gift of our own lives? What are we learning from our heart, not just from our mind? Is God a judgmental tyrant or a peacemaker? What about the Mystery of God? Can we live with that?

It is good to read the Bible and books about living a holy life. And it is also good to take time to simply be with God, to let God give you the next directions for your life. There are times to “never mind the map” and listen for directions that come from your heart.

This column was originally published July 6, 2018.