Trains

When King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet Tiglath pileser king of Assyria, he saw the altar that was at Damascus. And King Ahaz sent to Uriah the priest a model of the altar, and its pattern, exact in all its details. (2 Kings 16:10 ESV)

I was always fascinated by trains as I grew up. One of my neighbors was a model train aficionado. A corner of his basement was filled with his extensive HO train diorama. It included switch cars, steam locomotives, diesels, freight and passenger trains. There were villages, tunnels, bridges and little people and cars to complete the model. The detail of those miniatures was amazing.

My brothers and I would spend hours watching our neighbor operate the complex controls to maneuver the trains through tunnels, over mountains, loading and uploading cargo, all in miniature. When something went wrong he’d crawl under the table and then pop the upper part of his body through a hidden hatch to reach the interior of the diorama and effect repairs or adjustments.

Years later, married with children, the urge to play with HO trains returned. So when our children were young I purchased a small HO set for Christmas. We put together a board and a layout which would fit under our son’s bed. We were on Guam at the time. Guam has a highly corrosive atmosphere. The tracks rusted, the train lurched and it was not the most successful experiment. It was fun while it lasted but it didn’t last too long.

Later I purchased books, which have long been lost, about trains of all sorts. Once, after we were married, Beth and I took the Amtrak train across Florida. Other than that my closest experience with trains was watching them fly by my Aunt’s house as I hid in a nearby thicket.

My brothers and I carefully placed pennies and nickels on the iron tracks. When we heard the train coming we high tailed it to the nearest bush and waited for the massive train to roll by and squash our farthings into thin wafers. Our parents weren’t happy we played near the tracks so we didn’t tell them. Unfortunately our collection of wafer thin coins was a dead give away.

We were told tales of trains derailed by young boys putting pennies on the tracks. This was the parental ploy to keep us away from the dangerous train traffic. The thrill of the adventure made our squashed nickels valuable to us if no one else. I never rode on a train, except miniatures at amusement parks, while growing up. It would be years later, as an adult, when I’d enjoy a close encounter with trains. First I needed to have children. Many of the best things in life are excused by the presence of children.

On the south side of Saint Louis stands a railroad museum. During one of our furloughs we lived near Saint Louis. About an hour north is the town of Quincy where my parents lived at the time. Being so close my father came down to visit. The next day Dad, Joel and I drove over to see the massive engines and learn some of the history of the US rail service. There were no trains on Guam and Joel had never ridden a train.

Not only was Joel impressed by the massive size and detail of these machines but Dad and I were also thrilled with the visit. We climbed aboard different engines from different periods of US history. Getting that close without becoming an engine was enthralling.

There was a great difference between the models created, filling many basements, and the real thing. It wasn’t until we touched a real locomotive engine that we comprehended the enormity of these behemoths. All my life I looked at pictures and watched movies with trains. I imagined what it would be like to stand in the cab with all the knobs and levers. Never did I fully understand the massive weight and power involved until I came face to face with a real steam train.

The word of God also fascinated me from childhood. I could see there was great detail in the revelation of God. My imagination would run wild trying to realize some of the images about heaven and eternity. Trying to understand the true nature of God is difficult in the theoretical realm of the imagination. It was not until I was a believer and started to know God face to face that the finer details were revealed.

When I touched God I started to understand my theological model was just not large enough. When I stood at a distance and considered God through the writings and exposition of others then God was manageable and easily contained. As I stood in His presence the immensity of God was overwhelming. God is not the artistic creator my mind imagined but much more.

As there are minute details in the construction and operation of a steam engine, well beyond my vision while visiting a museum, there are aspects of my God which I can’t even imagine are missing in the overwhelming wonder of what I’ve already discovered.

Non-believers spend a lot of time analyzing and categorizing God within the confines of human logic. At a distance, in theoretical consideration, God is easily managed and contained. Unfortunately there are also believers who keep looking at models of God and not the real thing. They develop systematic theology, carefully constructed confessions and church polity to pander to human nature which likes to manage and confine God. It’s safe and comfortable.

Its like a steam engine. We can imagine the inner workings and think we have it all figured out. Its easy to manage and confine at the theoretical level. But those who work on the locomotives, who touch and handle the inner workings, understand the true function which produces such power. Good theory may produce a good steam engine. But good theory is only theory and won’t get us from point A to point B.

Good theology is not God. Until we invest in a hands on approach with God we maintain a safe distance which is easily managed and confined. When we allow God to have hands on in our lives we discover we can’t manage things much less cautiously confine God’s work. Maybe its time we started looking at the real thing, up close and personal, and not just our human reconstruction. It might be time to step away from the theory books and put our hand to work with God. Then we will discover the true nature of God’s presence in our lives.

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