This is Faith in Play #34: Guidance and The Machine, for September 2020.
Some people I know are terrified of the vision of the world in Person of Interest, the television series currently available on Netflix. In it, a man going by the name of Harold Finch has created a hardware/software combination that monitors and analyzes all the data everywhere—cameras, cell phones, online computers, everything. Using this data, it predicts terrorist attacks and gives limited information to a secret government agency so that these can be thwarted before they occur. Yet Harold took the system one step further: he designed it to inform him of the identities of anyone about to be involved, as victim or perpetrator, in a planned violent crime not related to terrorism. He wanted to save the lives of people involved in such crimes, and so the machine gives him social security numbers of such people.
Harold Finch is brilliant at computers, but slightly handicapped, walking with a limp, so he can’t do this himself. He recruits John Reese to do the legwork, and eventually Sameen Shaw joins them; two police detectives, Lionel Fusco and Joss Carter, also help them when called, knowing that their information is always good but not how they get it. Eventually someone who calls herself Root (Samantha Groves to Harold, but she doesn’t like that name) also joins them, apparently recruited by the machine itself.
It doesn’t frighten me. I see in it a wonderful metaphor of divine guidance, and the fact that God directs each of us in accordance with our own place in His plan.
Finch is the starting point. The machine, God in the metaphor, tells him that someone is going to be in trouble. It is up to him to figure out what kind of trouble and how he might be able to stop it. He gets his information directly, as it were, from God, but he rarely is able to use it himself. For some of us, we get divine guidance this way, the way Moses got it, and like Moses pass it to others.
That introduces Reese and Shaw. They both understand that the machine exists, and what it does, but the machine doesn’t talk to them, it talks to Finch who tells them what it said—making Finch something like one of the prophets, relaying divine information to people who will act on it. They still have to use their brains and skills, along with his, to figure out what is happening and how to stop it, trying to envision the big picture. Fusco and Carter are a step outside that—we might compare them to the various inspectors in the Father Brown series, who have no idea how he gets his information but from experience know it’s usually right. I think most of us are like those two most of the time, either knowing that God has spoken to someone else (even if it’s St. Paul) or that this someone else is usually right, and so doing God’s will based on the word of another.
Then there is Root.
Root is directly connected to the machine constantly. She gets directions like “shoot straight behind you.” What she doesn’t get is the big picture—she just trusts that the machine knows what it’s doing and will tell her her part. Shaw once asked her what the plan was, and she replied, “Honestly? Most of the time I’m told what I have to do a second before I have to do it. The big picture, that’s Hers.” She is constantly moving as if an extension of the will of the machine.
As I think about this, it strikes me that God directs us in all these ways, and that just like the machine He does so most commonly in that way which best fits our relationship with Him. I am mostly like Harold, seeing the tiniest glimpse that something needs to be done and then trying to figure out how to do it sometimes with the assistance of others. Some of the prophets were like that, being given a simple direction and carrying it through. On the other hand, I don’t think Jesus was the only one like Root—I’d wager that John the Baptist had that connection, at least sometimes, and I think I glimpse it in the life of Paul. And that is the way it is: usually God gives us a nudge in the right direction and lets us figure out what He wants, but sometimes—probably rarely—He tells us exactly what to do right now, possibly telling us no more than that.
And He treats each of us as individuals, giving us the kind of guidance that fits not only the situation but also us. Some of us, like Harold, need to work out the big picture. Others, like Root, are happy simply to know that God is directing us, and whatever it is that we were just told to do fits into His perfect plan. On one occasion, Root said to Harold, “You wonder why it won’t talk to you like it talks to me. Don’t be jealous Harold: Mom still loves us both.”
So listen for that guidance, and understand that it comes in different ways.
This article was originally drafted for submission to a geek devotional book, but was rejected. Because of the original intended venue there were a few extra bits that don’t fit the format here, but might be worth including:
- Key Scripture: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” —Proverbs 3:6
- Recommended reading: II Samuel 5:17-25
- Reflection Questions:
- How does God most often direct you?
- Can you recall instances in your life when His guidance came differently?
- Do you know people who hear from God more clearly than you, from whom you have sometimes received valuable direction?