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Someone warns him:
Slow down, your car's out of oil

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Someone warns him:
Slow down, your car's out of oil

by Walter Steensby
The author, a 61-year-old former IT manager, holds degrees in town planning, the history and philosophy of science, and computing studies. He and his wife, Cindy, live in Australia's capital, Canberra, where for 12 years they have been part of a small, independent Sabbath group.

CANBERRA, Australia--When God helps us His agents don't necessarily take visible form. Many of us have had experience of divine help given by unseen and yet very real actors. To me, the fact of divine help is sure. Let me explain.

In the mid-1980s I had gone through a long and difficult time financially. I was living in the national capital, Canberra, earning my keep as a computer programmer.

Local demand for my set of information-technology skills had dried up, but I'd landed a long-term contract programming job in Sydney.

This was great, but since I did not wish to move back to Sydney it meant a twice-weekly four-hour road trip to and from. During the working week I lodged with kind friends.

The Greyhound coach service was cheaper and easier than driving but had proved unreliable. Air travel was far too expensive. Trains were few and far between. I relied on my car to make the trip.

Here I must confess that I'd grown more than a bit slack when it came to car maintenance. As long as the car actually went and I could see through the windscreen, everything was all right.

The long-suffering car was a Renault model heavy for its size, meaning that it had a poor power-to-weight ratio. On other than flat roads I needed to work the engine hard to keep up a good average speed.

One Friday evening I was rapidly heading home. The week had been an unusually tough one. Work had been demanding. Sydney had been even more of a madhouse than usual, too much noise and pollution, too much rush and nervous haste. I was worn out, fed up and keen to get home to sane, green Canberra.

Some readers may remember that in those days the divided road began a few kilometers south of Liverpool on the outskirts of Sydney and ended just before Mittagong, about 60 kilometers of freeway traveled in just over half an hour at the legal limit of 110 kilometers per hour (70 miles per hour).

Back then there were no villages or towns along it, no service stations, no comfort stops, no emergency telephones, no streetlights. Mobile phones didn't exist.

The first half of the road went through lightly settled farmland, the second half through dark, lonely bushland with some steepish grades. After Mittagong, home lay another three hours' drive to the southwest on slow, twisting, overtrafficked roads.

Unsolicited advice

So here I was pounding along the freeway, maintaining an average speed close to the limit, working my engine hard indeed. I overtook car after car (lots of dawdlers that evening) and was only about 10 minutes out of Mittagong when--someone spoke to me.

Well, no, not exactly spoke. Know how it is when someone speaks to you and stops speaking and you remember what was said?

That's how it was. Suddenly I had a distinct memory that someone had spoken to me and had said, calmly and clearly: "Slow down. There's no oil in the engine."

I pondered this for a few seconds--well, this sort of thing didn't happen every day, did it?--then surveyed the dashboard lights and needles and listened carefully to the engine.

Careful chugging

All seemed well. I didn't reply by talking back. I thought back: to the angel of God or my subconscious or whatever the voice represented. You thought at me, so I'll think at you.

"Looks okay here," I thought.

"No! Slow down! There's no oil in it!" came the voice-memory.

The exhortation came immediately and urgently. I thought for a few seconds more and, feeling a bit odd, took my foot off the accelerator: 110, 100, 90, finally 80, which felt like crawling.

I thought back again: "Will this do?"

No reply, so I concluded it would.

With cars I had overtaken now overtaking me, I carefully chugged into Mittagong, simultaneously confident that my engine would be quite all right and a bit apprehensive that it might yet seize up in spite of my heeding the warning.

It didn't. Mittagong is not a large town, and back then only one service station out of its five or six opened at night.

At least there was one. As you can imagine, I was bursting with curiosity about the oil level.

Nothing on the dipstick

Unbelievable. Nothing, nothing, on the dipstick. Nothing except a faint, thin sheen of oil.

According to the owner's handbook, the amount of oil I poured in corresponded to a completely empty sump and a nearly empty oil filter. My engine was surviving on the small amount of oil left in the filter. The warning had been quite correct.

Say I'd not heeded it, what then? My engine would have seized up before Mittagong.

I would have had to flag down a passing car (at night on a freeway), get my car towed into town, spend at least one night and maybe two in town, find a mechanic able to rebuild Renault engines, likely fail and get the car towed back to Canberra, lose the weekend completely, organize a temporary vehicle, perhaps be unable to return to work for several days, and do all of this on a tiny budget with no reserves.

I am quite convinced God saved me from financial disaster and from myself, even though I hadn't asked for it. Was I grateful? Was I embarrassed? Did I maintain my car better afterwards? An emphatic yes to all three questions.

By the way, I'm glad I didn't hear actual voices. Joan of Arc apparently did, and look what happened to her.

Help to my faith

This experience has been a great help to my faith. Along with it I know I have received divine help in other ways over the years.

Yes, most help came because I asked for it, but some of it came before I even knew I needed it.

For the record, I have also had requests answered with an immediate, flat "No."

I have accumulated a little mental card index of God's instances of help, and when I feel down or uncertain I go back through the cards and revisit the times and places.

I know what I know

If anyone asks what proof I have that God exists, I can adduce the Argument from Experience.

Sure, many people will not be convinced by anything so personal, but it doesn't matter what they think.

I know what I have gone through, and I know that a friendly spirit realm exists.

What about others who need help?

However, some aspects of this episode bother me. Why was I given this kind of help? Why me? Why then? How many other people have ruined their engines or worse and received no divine help at all when seemingly they deserved to?

What about more-weighty matters, such as people who die young or painfully and slowly of illness or injury? Why does God not intervene for them?

When I was 8 why did God let me fall headfirst more than 11 feet until the ground broke my fall and both wrists and dealt my head a colossal blow?

In the wider scheme of things how do I demonstrate that God is not unreliable at best and useless or nonexistent at worst?

The simple, perhaps facile, conclusion is that God helps us only when it is good for us to be helped.

Help sometimes involves bailing us out of minor scrapes, and sometimes letting us go through stern trials. Some people transcend their troubles. Others are absolutely diminished by them. I am still developing ways to account for this.

One thing I've noticed over the years is that for me the occasions of God's help are unique. Each one is different. There's no pattern.

This bothers some skeptics. They want divine actions to be repeatable and even testable. But of course God does not let Himself be experimented upon any more than humans do.

What is predictable about God is His love of justice, righteousness--and mercy.

Getting there

Christ as God's delegate has told me to unload all my cares and concerns onto Him but didn't tell me to switch my brains off. He and the Father expect me to learn from each experience and try not to make the same mistake twice.

I'm getting there.


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