Map making goes by the name of cartography. It may not sound terribly interesting, but in 1815 a cartographer by the name of William Smith produced a map that changed the world. William Smith was an English orphan who grew up in poverty. He became a surveyor and during his time surveying the countryside he came to realise something very important about the earth beneath his feet. First he discovered that rocks could be dated by the fossils found in them. Find the same type of fossils in two rocks separated by distance and it’s probably they come from the same era. Second, he learned that the rock layers tend to be arranged in a consistent pattern. Armed with that knowledge Smith produced a geological map of England, Scotland and Wales. And that map changed the world.

How you might ask? Well for the first time Smith’s map allowed people to predict what lay beneath the ground. Prior to Smith’s map if you wanted to find gold or coal or gas or any other natural resource you had to scout the surface for some sign of them – a glint of gold or an outcropping of coal. But with Smith’s map you could look for particular rock types and know what likely lay beneath them and within them. His map allowed us to see below the surface and to uncover the depths. And so the electricity we gain from coal, the gas that fires our stoves, the gold we wear on chains around our necks, and much much more are possible because William Smith mad a map in 1815.

Smith’s story reminds us of the need to be cartographers of life. Before Smith we barely scratched the surface of the earth, but after Smith we could plumb the depths. Similarly, we could all do with a life map, a mental map that enables us to do more than scratch the surface of life, but to experience the depths of human possibility. For Christians Jesus is the Cartographer of Life, the one who provides us with a map of realities that we can barely see – of God, truth and love.

Alternate Application: The Scriptures are a life-map God has provided for us. They point us to realities about God and life that we would otherwise not be able to see, and enable us to live life to its fullest.

Source: William Smith’s story is reported in Simon Wichester, The Map That Changed the World (HarperCollins, 2001)

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