Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” John 14:5,6
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…. I Corinthians 14:33 (New King James Version)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. II Timothy 1:7 (New King James Version)
Navigating Spiritual Fog
One of the leading stories in east-central Indiana this past week was the announcement nearly every morning of two-hour delays for starting school in many of the districts in this region. Someone in the school’s administration gets up very early and probably takes a quick drive over some of the roads their buses need to travel. If dense fog is present on those routes, that school official calls area broadcasters to have them announce that the schools in that district will start two hours later than normal and will have a shortened class schedule that day. The extra two hours before the buses run allows the morning sun to warm the clouds hugging the earth’s surface so that the densely-packed water particles that make fog will disperse and become invisible.
When Pam and I moved here long ago, I remember being intrigued by seeing school buses with bright white flashing lights on the roof of the vehicle (something like the ones on aircraft) and wondering what that was for. We worked on a lot of school buses at my dad’s service station when I was a kid, but I don’t recall ever seeing one with those lights on the top. Neither do I remember ever getting to start a school day late due to fog. It occasionally got foggy, but Kansas mornings were windier, and I think probably it was less humid back then. I know school got canceled altogether once in awhile because of snow or ice, but I’m not sure anyone had yet thought of the idea of starting two hours late. We didn’t have to live here very long to figure out that the flashing lights on top of the buses were for safety on the early foggy mornings when the buses did run and visibility was precariously limited. We’ve learned that Indiana is something of a “perfect storm” of hot humid days, a warm earth, and the autumn onset of cooler nighttime air that causes the humidity to condense into tiny droplets that create morning fog.
Hazards of Operating in Fog If we needed concrete evidence that Indiana’s fog was a serious safety hazard, we got it not long after we arrived here. An elderly woman in our church was at the new assisted living center at the southeast edge of Winchester one foggy morning and got into her car to go somewhere. She could not see more than a few feet in front of the car, but she decided to go anyway. Just in backing out of her parking space and heading towards the exit of the parking lot, she became disoriented. She traveled through the exit without turning where she should have, crossed the street onto a grassy strip on the opposite side, and kept going 20-30 feet right into a small pond which the landscapers had constructed at the entrance to the complex. Fortunately for her, someone was driving past on a nearby highway at that exact moment and saw just enough of the accident to know something was wrong. That driver called 911 and got emergency personnel there quickly to rescue the woman from the cold water that she could not have escaped on her own.
We all probably have had the experience of driving around in thick fog, perhaps able to see the stripes on the pavement and the lights of other nearby vehicles — but with badly-reduced depth perception and extreme difficulty seeing familiar landmarks or street signs. Under those circumstances, it is awfully easy to get lost even in places we know well, and much more likely we’ll end up in an accident. When my dad was learning to pilot airplanes, I remember him telling us about having to fly “under the hood” with his instructor to simulate flying through heavy overcast and clouds without being able to see the ground. Many plane crashes have been caused by pilots becoming disoriented in such conditions. He had to put on a visor that allowed him to see the instrument panel but nothing else. The point was to teach him to trust the instruments in the plane, not his “fogged” view out the window, in order to maintain airspeed, altitude, and level wings. Surely there is a lesson about spiritual life in that.
Fog as a Multi-purpose Metaphor There are many conditions in human life that get called “foggy” when they cause a lack of clarity about things. There is no cloud of densely-packed water particles involved, but rather complex combinations of problems, information, feelings, preferences and values, priorities, loyalties, commitments, costs and benefits, medical conditions, and numerous other concerns that can obscure or blur our view of life and leave us in a state of confusion. When those times come, it feels like we’re driving around in a bank of fog, knowing we must make important choices, but being unable to see the full picture of all the issues involved. It never is a good feeling.
COVID-19 Brain Fog The most frequently heard fog metaphor recently is COVID brain fog. It is a general description of a neurological symptom of COVID-19 illness that causes the patient to have uncommon headaches and to feel mentally “fuzzy” or slow, confused or unclear, and unable to concentrate or remember things. Patients describing their COVID brain fog say this symptom lasts for months, long after their other symptoms have left them. Researchers believe that COVID brain fog results from the virus’ ability to enter brain tissue via a specific enzyme. Once there, it causes the immune system to secrete increased levels of cytokine molecules that cause inflammation in the fluid surrounding the brain. That inflammation then hinders the ability of brain cells and neurons to communicate with each other, likely leading to the feeling of brain fog. Other impacts of COVID-19 on the body – poor sleep, depression, stress, dietary changes, lack of physical activity – combine with brain inflammation to exacerbate the “fog.” Studies have shown that from 15-35% of people diagnosed with COVID-19 infection have experienced brain fog. It is most prevalent and enduring in those whose illness was severe. Neurological symptoms like headaches, fatigue, mood changes, and vision problems can last for several months after COVID illness. I heard a school teacher interviewed last week who resigned from her job because brain fog had badly impaired her. Doctors advise good sleep, diet, and exercise to help diminish the strength and duration of brain fog.
Fog of War Another fog metaphor I’ve heard used several times recently is “the fog of war” to explain deadly mistakes made in the heat of battle in Ukraine (or to make excuses for destructive actions that weren’t accidental at all). By definition, war is chaos, confusion, emergencies, noise, consequential decisions made in haste, rapidly-changing information, and all kinds of stress. Under such circumstances, human beings are pretty much guaranteed to fall apart, make costly or lethal errors, and cause harm they would not consider doing in a more normal situation. I personally find it important to hear often the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 13:10 – “Love does no harm to its neighbor” – and in I Corinthians 14:33 – “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” — to be reminded that the fog of war is an injury the human race inflicts upon itself.
Spiritual Fog The miracles Jesus performed while on earth to restore sight to blind people are for me a witness of his ability and desire to make a clear path forward into his eternal Kingdom for people who are groping around in all kinds of spiritual fog banks. His enemy uses everything possible to create blinding fog that prevents them from knowing him and hinders their spiritual journey. For some in this Digital Age, it is a fog of information overload. They will search the internet from one end to the other and read everything they can about religions and religious issues (John 5:39). Some will spend their lives debating others over whose information is the best. Others get so overwhelmed with all the input and opinions that they just give up and lose interest. In either case, they never choose to turn inward to experience and listen to the living Spirit of Christ who longs by grace to be their Present Teacher (John 14:26), but instead continue wandering in the fog of human effort.
Others in our time wander around in a fog of spiritual indecision. In a culture of constant marketing and enticing advertising, it is not hard to understand many people’s paralysis by conflicting priorities. Like the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), they truly want to follow Christ, but they also find it too challenging to hear him say “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness” and let God supply what you need to do that (Matthew 6:33), and like the rich young man they go away sad. Another form of that indecision is the fog of earthly pleasure, vividly exemplified by a popular culture and economy so dominated by countless expressions of the entertainment industry. Some of those do some actual good, others might be neutral, but many actively lead people as far away from the Lord as possible and leave them wandering in spiritual fog. We regularly need to hear John’s urging to avoid loving the world and its desires (I John 2:15-17) because they are incompatible with the love of the Father.
Another similar trap in our time is the fog of spiritual uncertainty. There are many things about eternal life that we do not yet know, but the scriptures give us enough evidence and promise — shown to be true by the documented life, death, and resurrection of Jesus — that we can trust what is known. Earthly life as we know it will one day end, Christ will return to complete the establishment of God’s kingdom, and all who walked with him in earthly life will continue walking with him eternally (I Thessalonians 4:16-18). Failing to trust and live like God’s promise is true leaves us in a fog of uncertainty, like a pilot flying through heavy clouds by looking out the window instead of trusting the instruments in the plane. The Spirit knows what is ahead. He will guide us around the dangers and into a safe landing if we will trust him and follow his instructions. Like Thomas in John 14:5, we may not know the way, but we are invited to know and follow the One who is the Way, one day at a time.
Mark 8:22-26 tells the story of Jesus restoring the sight of a blind man at Bethsaida. After Jesus touched his eyes the first time, he said he could see “people who looked like trees walking around.” Jesus touched his eyes a second time, and his fog was lifted, his vision fully restored. It is my prayer that every one of us will allow him to touch our souls as many time as it takes to dispel the spiritual fog of confusion, indecision, temptation, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, and other impediments that prevent us from knowing the life and love of God that surpasses all understanding. Lord, let it be so.
Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; naught be all else to me, save that Thou art (let nothing else matter to me, except as it matters to You).
Thou my best thought by day or by night; waking or sleeping, Thy presence my Light.
–Ron Ferguson, 18 September 2022
Queries for Worship-Sharing and Reflection
1) What other kinds of spiritual fog (besides those in the last section above) have you seen during your walk with the Lord? What other kinds of social fog have you witnessed?
2) Spiritual fog will always happen in this life. What preparations are we to make, to be able to deal with it redemptively?
3) Ron advises trusting scripture’s witness about Jesus to confront the fog of uncertainty. What other resources do we have?
4) When was a time you felt you were in spiritual fog? What did it feel like? How did the Lord help you through it?