“…A LIGHT UNTO MY PATH” by Ed Cardwell
Written by Ed Cardwell – Life experiences rightly viewed can often translate into great spiritual truths.
It was in the early spring of 1966 when the military buildup in Vietnam was at warp speed that I enlisted at the age of 23 in the U.S. army as a private ‘e zero’. The plan was to eventually attend advanced training at Fort Holabird, Md., but first I was required to endure 8 weeks of basic training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana. That experience has been a gold mine for spiritual applications later in life.
Rifle training was one such experience. The army had a 95 page training manual on how to fire a rifle, at the time an M-14, which they referred to only as a ‘weapon’. My uncles, who were avid hunters, had no need for such a booklet; they showed me in 2 minutes how to shoot. But the military did have the equipment to make it all happen, and it was a useful training which I shall never forget.
At the conclusion of the rifle training there was always the test of ‘firing for record’ where your score was entered in your permanent file. It was a good day – 61 out of 65 targets I hit at a distance of 50 to 250 yards. That was good enough for an ‘expert’ rating; it ranked 5th out of a company of over 200 men. I was then very confident of my ability to handle an M-14 in any situation.
Then came the novel adventure called ‘night firing,’ an opportunity to test one’s skill at shooting at a human silhouette only 25 yards down a clear path in the dead of night. The target was clearly visible with the lights on, but when they were turned off, it was eerily invisible. There only remained in the mind’s eye a fading recollection of its direction and distance.
The event began after each man on the firing line loaded his rifle with a clip of 20 rounds of ammo, and then the lights were turned off leaving an entire row of marksmen in total darkness. It was no mystery where the silhouette was, for the line of fire had been clearly marked out. So, after the preliminary instructions on how to proceed, the command was given to begin firing. I fired my 20 rounds straight down the alley where I had, just a few seconds before, seen a visible target. After each member of the firing squad had emptied his clip of 20 rounds, the command was given to ‘cease fire’. The lights were turned on, and each man pulled in his silhouette on a return line fixed overhead and connected to the target. Upon examining my silhouette, and to my surprise, I found no ‘hits’ – none, zip, zero, nada.
This entire procedure was executed a second time with an additional 20 rounds. To be sure of at least ‘wounding’ my target I expanded my aim to a small degree of rotation to be sure of covering the entire area of the silhouette. The command to commence firing was repeated, and again, after emptying our clips, the targets were returned to us for inspection. Again! – No ‘hits’! – none! I found this hard to believe. I studied very carefully the distance and angle of my silhouette after it was returned to its position and determined that I now had an even more accurate assessment of my position in relation to my target. I was sure of it.
For the final time we loaded a clip of 20 rounds, the target was returned to its position, and the lights were again turned off. I had stared at the silhouette intently during that interim and had a perfect image of the human form in my mind. There was no way I was going to miss this time. I fired each round carefully rotating my aim only slightly to be sure I had my entire silhouette covered without overcompensating. And now, after 3 tries of 20 rounds each – a total of 60 rounds! – I was sure to have finally succeeded in giving the final death blow to this frustrating paper enemy.
The targets were returned to us for the 3rd and final time for our examination. I had been thinking it was good that there was not going to be a permanent record of this disaster in my file. So, one last time I checked for any semblance of a penetration in my target. Once again I was stunned and mystified, as there was not a single ‘hit’ anywhere in my target for the third time! Sixty rounds went awry – Not a single hit! This just couldn’t be! I was an ‘expert’! I had the official record to prove it! 5th place in the entire company of over 200! I even received a medal for it! Surely I hadn’t been firing blanks!?
A New Awareness
I did not check to see how the night firing went for the other men. I was only concerned about my own failure in this shooting gig; and still to this day I am dumbfounded as to how I could possibly have failed to hit a target so close with 60 attempts and to have come up a total washout using a weapon that I had recently scored as high as ‘expert.’
But it should be obvious that without the benefit of light it is impossible for even an ‘expert’ to find his path, hit his intended target, or reach his objective. That’s why cars have headlights. Who could not imagine what would happen on the road at night if there were no headlights or if suddenly the lights were to go out. (I have actually lived such a terrifying experience!)
Dr. McGee tells the interesting story about his squirrel hunting trip in Middle Tennessee years ago when he and his friend were walking along and came to a fork in the creek and beyond was a rather large hill; they both agreed to each take a separate path around the hill each man passing on a different side. While making the trek it began to rain, and Dr. McGee began to look for shelter. He found a small cave and chose to take refuge there until the rain stopped. He was protected from the rain but found himself uncomfortably cold in this cave, so he decided to build a fire. He gathered some leaves and set a match to them to warm himself. Only when the light from the fire expelled the darkness could he see that he wasn’t alone in that cave. His summary thoughts were, “I have never been in a place in which there were so many spiders and lizards as there were in that cave! Over in one corner was a little snake all coiled up, just looking at me. My friend, I got out of there in a hurry, working on the assumption that possession is nine-tenths of the law, and since those creatures had the cave ahead of me, it belonged to them. I had been sitting in comfort for about thirty minutes while I was in darkness, but when the light of the fire revealed what was in the cave, I could no longer be comfortable there.”
“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (KJV Psalm 109:105)
Physical light allows us to perceive reality all around us. This truth is so fundamental and universal that it can be applied to any and every walk of life and human activity. Analogies and applications are limitless.
The Psalmist has declared, “The entrance of Thy words giveth light.” (KJV Psalm 119:130)
In the realm of the mental and spiritual this truth most certainly applies to our own culture today – a culture that is scurrying blindly and recklessly toward a cataclysmic denouement from which we may never recover.
When God formed the earth it was in static darkness; light was the very next thing that He called into existence. In the book of Genesis we read: “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.’” (NAS Genesis 1:3)
Light was essential for His eternal purpose from the beginning – for all life and all that was to exist. Light dispels the darkness, which is its antithesis, and light illuminates the expanse of His universe.
It should be noted that when the Bible describe the darkness of the human heart, it is speaking of a mind and soul that is alienated from the Spirit of God, i.e., the ‘natural man.’ That soul is incapable of comprehending His Creator and relating to Him.
The Apostle Paul writes,
“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (NAS 1 Corinthians 2:14)
And Paul again writes,
“For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (NAS Romans 8:6-8)
The heart of the ‘natural man’ is filled with only self-interest, self-sufficiency, self-preservation. All motivation is self-centered. Any appearance of goodness is only instinctive, as is seen in the animal kingdom. Even what appears as a good deed has its root in the depths of a self-serving heart. Isaiah prophesied, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” (KJV Isaiah 64:6)
Man was created to have full communion and fellowship with God, unencumbered by any stain of wickedness, but disobedience brought sin, and sin brought separation from the Creator, leaving mankind in an alienated state with a broken spirit and finally death, which is the totality of separation.
The natural man is like an unplugged electric appliance. The source of energy is disconnected and the appliance is inert. It is there, but its use is quite confined. It could be used as a paper weight or a flower pot or as a conversation piece, but it cannot serve its originally intended purpose because it is cut off from its energy source.
The king of Israel was commanded to write for himself a copy of the law of God that it would be with him and he should read it all the days of his life. Why? So that ‘He may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right or the left… in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom.’ (Deuteronomy 17:18ff) As king and leader of the nation he would have awesome responsibilities and, if he expected to be successful and endure, he would need the light of the truth of God to guide him in every decision.
And if it was good enough for the king, then it was good enough for the priests, the prophets, and all the leaders of the kingdom to do likewise. The king was to seek the Lord to do right and not follow blindly the counsel of his sycophantic advisors, who often walked in darkness while soliciting the persuasive flattery of the soothsayers and false prophets.
Since our forbearers who came to this country to be free to follow the words of this same wise and eternal law, and thus built the sure foundation of this nation upon the light of His truth, we may ask ourselves, ‘How many of our leaders today are students of the Word of God?’ Can we actually visualize our mayors and council persons, our governors, our representatives, or our President and his cabinet beginning their day in the Word, praying and seeking the Lord’s guidance for wisdom in their respective realms? Doubtful.
Today we have many decision makers over us, some elected and others appointed who have ‘no fear of God’ (Psalm 36:1) and give Him little or no consideration. There are many in positions of power who are trying to banish God away from our culture completely. (Psalm 2) We should be acutely aware of the relationship of ‘cause and effect’ in this matter of leadership, both local and national. It is no mystery. The truths in God’s revealed word are eternal. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, they apply even today. To despise and reject God and His word is to walk blindly and ignorantly into the night and to invite affliction, calamity and destruction. We see the social wreckage caused by their utter blindness in their godless opinions, inane policies, and irrational legislation.
The Psalmist David wrote:
“Transgression speaks to the ungodly within his heart; There is no fear of God before his eyes.
2 For it flatters him in his own eyes, concerning the discovery of his iniquity and the hatred of it.
3 The words of his mouth are wickedness and deceit; He has ceased to be wise and to do good.
4 He plans wickedness upon his bed; He sets himself on a path that is not good; He does not despise evil.” (Psalm 36:1-4)
Isaiah and Jeremiah add to the indictment:
“The wise men are put to shame, They are dismayed and caught; Behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, And what kind of wisdom do they have?” (KJV Jeremiah 8:9)
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (KJV Isaiah 8:20)
As in the days of Jeremiah, the people were offended and weary, even angry, at hearing the prophetic words from the true messengers of God who brought God’s warnings and pleas for repentance. Many prophets were sorely persecuted, even put to death. The people would rather embrace the false prophets with their consoling and seductive forecasts:
“And they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.
12 “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they had done? They certainly were not ashamed, And they did not know how to blush; Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; At the time of their punishment they shall be brought down,” ‘Declares the LORD.’ (NAS Jeremiah 8:11-12)
All of this should be a strong reminder to every citizen that we too should be traveling in the light of God’s word every day. For our leaders are often no more than an extension of our own character, good and bad. If we are living as ‘natural men and women’ apart from the truth revealed in the Word, how can we demand of our leaders a godly character that we have chosen to despise and ignore?
The gavel of divine retribution usually doesn’t descend all at once. Oftentimes judgment expands over time, moving slowly, even intermittently, allowing for man to reflect on his condition and make a positive turn in his spiritual direction. Unfortunately, many will deny the reality of any coming doomsday scenario because they have despised the Word of God, and therefore they don’t have the benefit of divine wisdom to discern the times. (1Chron 12:32) So they don’t examine the entire pattern of the progression of judgment, often until it’s too late. They deny and even condemn what is inevitable. Ask Israel. It is often a case of ‘the blind leading the blind.’
God is patient and gives adequate warning to allow for a turning back from evil and wickedness, for He is a God of compassion, love, and mercy.
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (NAS 2 Peter 3:9)
“Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.” (NAS Isaiah 55:7)
Much has been written in recent months concerning the inevitability of the sad demise of this great nation. To be sure, under the present circumstances and considering the direction we are headed, it is a very likely prospect. Darkness floods our path. The naysayers might think that it is just a fashionable theme passing in the night for the prophecy crowd. They may think all will soon be replaced by the glory of the ‘new’ era where man will finally be the savior of his own destiny and everything will be as ‘heaven on earth.’
That is a demonic hallucination. It is Satan’s lie from the dark dungeon of hell, but the Word of our Lord is sure, and His Word will never pass away.
What we need is a mass spiritual conversion among our leaders, those who govern and make decisions that affect our people far into the future. They need the light of the living God to turn their hearts to Him. We must pray that they will turn to Him and join the heaven-bound host who anxiously await His soon return.
“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (KJV 2 Corinthians 4:6)
“For Thou dost light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.” (NAS Psalm 18:28)