Numbness is the loss of feeling. It can be both a physical loss of sensation in a part of our body, or an emotional loss of feeling in our heart. Jonathan Taylor, the protagonist of Tammy Kling and John Spencer Ellis’ 2009 novel “The Compass” is dealing with an emotional numbness that has left him feeling completely hollow. In the first chapter we are told that Jonathan has spent three days walking through the Nevada desert. He has no more water and very little food left, but he doesn’t care because he has suffered a deep loss of some kind and no longer cares whether he lives or dies.
Enter into the picture a woman who introduces herself as Marilyn who provides Jonathan with water and offers him a place in the shade near her tent to rest for the night. Marilyn, realizes that Jonathan has suffered a deep loss and somewhat prophetically also realizes that the deep gash that is still healing on his forehead is from a suicide attempt. She realizes that Jonathan is lost in his life’s journey and offers up this round of advice. “it doesn’t matter what you seek or what you find. What matters is that you allow your compass to guide you , and your gifts and knowledge rise to the surface, so you can live out your life’s purpose.”
This statement here is somewhat Christian at its core. You see for us as believers that ‘compass’ that Marilyn is speaking of is the Holy Spirit who Jesus told the disciples would come after He was taken back to Heaven. The Holy Spirit is our guide in all truth (John 16:13a) and we need to let Him guide us in our lives. The Apostle Paul also talks about different spiritual gifts that are given to all believers (1 Corinthains 12, Ephesians 4). We as believers are to use those gifts to further the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus to put a definite Christian spin on Marilyn’s statement, if you let the Holy Spirit guide you, your spiritual gifts will be revealed to you, so you can live out the calling God has for your life.
As Jonathan gets to know Marilyn better he learns she is dying of a malignant brain tumor, and that she was once a psychiatrist, but now is choosing to live out one of her lifelong dreams of being a photographer for her last days. At one point she makes another important statement to Jonathan: “We’re not guaranteed anything, you know, yet we come into this world feeling entitled as if we are. We arrive acting as if we’ve been handed a manual for life with a certificate that guarantees us a hundred years.”
In America today, with all of our advanced medical technology it is so easy to not even give a thought to the fact that we are mortal individuals who will all die at some point. God never guarantees us long lives, which is why Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 that we should “Remember your Creator now while you are young, before the silver cord of life snaps and the golden bowl is broken. Don’t wait until the water jar is smashed at the spring and the pulley is broken at the well. For the dust will return to the earth, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.” These are wise words from Solomon. We should as Christian’s seek to honor the Lord with our lives every day, and as Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 seek to offer our bodies as living sacrifices as “a spiritual act of worship.” Notice Paul says ‘living sacrifices’ not ‘dead sacrifices.’ God does not want us to kill ourselves the way pagan cultures often would commit suicides as an act of worship, but instead to sacrifice our personal wills for our lives, so that He can take control and use us in the way that He knows is best.
As the story moves along, Marilyn offers to give Jonathan a free helicopter ride to New York with her, where she is planning her next photography trip. Jonathan agrees to go, and once in New York he checks into a remote cabin lodge where he meets an Italian man named Pete who owns and maintains the lodges. Pete is the next person to speak truth into Jonathan’s life.
Pete is a fun character in this story. He shows up at the cabin and offers Jonathan a lot of wisdom and advice, as well as shots of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. Half of the time Jonathan just wants to be alone for the day, but Pete always seems to show up. Pete also inscribed the Italian poet Dante’s words from his story “The Divine Comedy” above the front door of the cabin. The words are in Italian but Pete translates them for Jonathan and says they mean “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” As one would imagine Jonathan finds this a weird thing to inscribe above a, but Pete tells him that not everything has to make sense in life. He also tells Jonathan that in “The Divine Comedy” the same words are written above the entrance to Hell. Now that to me certainly makes sense, as the Bible tells us that Hell is a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12) and that there will be a lake of fire there that everyone who is not a believer when Christ returns will be thrown into (Revelation 20:14-15). Therefore, there can be no trace of hope in Hell.
Pete also tells Jonathan that “we all have a war within us like two warring bluebirds.” This echoes quite well what the Apostle Paul told us in Ephesians 6:12 “For we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against wicked spirits in the heavenly realms.” You see the ‘mighty powers of darkness’ are the ways in which Satan tries to tempt us into sin. Because we live in a fallen world (Genesis 3), Satan has dominion in the world around us, which is why so many terrible things happen in life. However, for those of us who are Christians, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us to combat the evil forces that Satan sends our way. Thus a power struggle wages inside of our hearts. The good news is though that those of us who are Redeemed can call on the Lord at any time and he will deliver us from the temptation of the Evil one (2 Timothy 4:18).
As the story progresses and Jonathan accompanies Pete on a trip to Italy after Pete learned that his mother passed away. They land in Bucharest, Romania and part ways, Pete goes on to Italy and Jonathan goes on to Transylvania. There he meets a young man at the hotel he is staying at named Solomon, who works at the busboy for the hotel, as well as begging for money in the streets. However, Solomon’s passion is gardening, and he tends to a small garden outside of the hotel. Solomon and Jonathan connect immediately and Jonathan soon realizes that Solomon is quite perceptive for being so young.
At one point Solomon asks Jonathan “Don’t you ever wonder about the meaning of life? Your destiny is like this garden you must water, weed, and repeat.” As Christians we can know the answer to this question about the meaning of life. While what Solomon says here is true, we need to be watered (through Jesus the Living water [John 4]) and we need to be weeded (or the term Jesus uses pruned [John 15]) the real answer to our purpose in life as the humanity God created is in Micah 6:8 “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” You see by showing others mercy, and letting our actions justify us as Christ followers, we can be a light to a dark world. By being humble in the Lord’s eyes, we demonstrate to the world that we are under an authority that is greater than this world has to offer, because our goal is to let our light shine before mankind (Matthew 5:16).
Another word of wisdom from 10 year old Solomon comes when he practically quotes 1 Samuel 16:7 to Jonathan. He tells Jonathan that God looks at the heart of people, and not their outward appearance, which is the same thing God told Samuel in that verse mentioned above. Solomon reminds Jonathan that it is truly our heart that matters to God, and not our outward appearance that most of us care so much about.
From Transylvania, Jonathan decides to head to Holland, where while stopping in at a bicycle rental shop one day, he meets Toin and his girlfriend Anja. Toin we are told was once a professional bicycle racer, who due to a lapse on judgment one day in race was hit by a car and paralyzed from the waist down. Toin and Anja offer to allow Jonathan to stay with them in their apartment in exchange for working the bike shop. It does appear that Toin and Anja do cohabitate, and though they have talked about marriage, seem to be hesitant to actually go through with their plans. Unfortunately, this is happening more and more in both America and the world today. I think this is primarily because sex has become so normalized and not something incredibly special and only enjoyed between married couples, the way God intended it (see Genesis 2:24, and Proverbs 5:18-20 for two examples highlighting this in scripture).
Be that as it may though, the main purpose that I believe Toin and Anja are in Jonathan’s life is to help him towards the healing process of his tremendous loss. Toin is somewhat of a local celebrity, and he always has free drinks at the local pubs. Thus he and Jonathan spend a lot of time talking about loss while consuming beer. At one point when Jonathan hears the story of Toin’s accident that ended his bike racing career, he gives Toin his condolences. Toin’s response is rather blunt with several bold statements: “Are all American’s like you?.. Are they all pathetic a**holes who sit around and feel sorry for themselves?”…. “Old pain is like an anchor: Useless.”
Ouch! This does a fine job of illustrating though how sometimes God does use people to speak bluntly and directly into our lives. Don’t get me wrong, when someone is grieving we need to show them compassion, but at some point and when the Lord leads us to, we also need to remind them that Jesus told us that the world would give us trouble, but we could have peace in Him (John 16:33). He also taught us though the despite our pain, He had come to give us Life and Life abundantly (John 10:10). That verse has brought me much comfort over the years, and sometimes we I have been in pain over certain things in my my life, having someone remind me of both of those passages from John has encouraged me. Sometimes God truly does want us to lay our pain down, so that he can give us abundant Life through Jesus, despite our grief and sadness. Old pain can be like Toin said an anchor, an anchor that hold us back from the abundant Life Jesus desires to give us.
As this novel begins to head towards a close, Toin finally convinces Jonathan to call his brother back in California. Jonathan agrees and the conversation with his brother throws a twist into the story that ultimately leads Jonathan back home to the states. There he begins to heal some of the wounds that have been draining him since the start of the book.
While this book is full of Christian concepts and ideas, it also is full with some overly New Age influenced thoughts. While God and Jesus are talked about throughout the book, there is no direct mention of the Holy Spirit. Instead as the book title implies plenty is said about the inward ‘compass” that guides us all, as I mentioned in the Marilyn example earlier. As the stories in the book of Acts testify to us, the Holy Spirit is the one who guides us to God’s will and purpose in our lives. All of the early Church leaders such as Peter and Paul both talked in great lengths about following His guidance. After all Jesus promised the disciples that the Holy Spirit would come after He was taken into heaven (John 14:16-18). As Believers we are all given that gift of the Holy Spirit the day we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Thus He is our guide in life, not some mystical ‘compass’ that this book describes. So many times authors Kling and Ellis seem so close to Christianity, and yet other times they seem rather far away. Don’t get me wrong this is a fine novel, but it needs to be read with care and recognition that it is not a Christian book, but a book that communicates a lot of Christian like messages.