In the spring of 1879, Lieutenant George De Long and his crew set out on the USS Jeannette in hopes of claiming the North Pole for the United States. No one had ever been to the North Pole before, but many of the leading geographers and scientists at that time believed the top of the world was covered by a shallow, warm, ice-free sea. Cartographers were so sure of the existence of this open body of water that they often labeled the top of the globe, “Open Polar Sea.” Some speculated that the North Pole was home for not only exotic marine life, but perhaps even a lost civilization. There was certainly evidence that the maps showing the Open Polar Sea were wrong. Previous expeditions sailing north had always encountered a significant obstacle: ice. However, Dr. A. H. Petermann, a noted German cartographer, insisted the Arctic ice barrier was merely a ring that encircled the warm body of water. He claimed that if explorers could burst through this icy circle, they would then find open water. The key, Petermann said, was to find a gap where the ice was weakest, which would be a natural portal and a gateway to the North Pole.
So George De Long and his twenty-eight crew members set off on their quest. It didn’t take long, however, for them to realize they had made a mistake trusting the supposed experts. De Long wrote that the idea there was portal through the ice was “a delusion and a snare.” He eventually decided that the maps showing the Open Polar Sea were simply wrong, because everywhere he and his crew went, they found ice that seemed to stretch out forever. In September of 1879, USS Jeannette got trapped in the ice pack of the Chuckchi Sea (located north of the Bering Strait, between Alaska and Siberia). It would be almost two years before it would sink, but by that time De Long and his crew had abandoned the ship in an attempt to walk to Siberia. Some of the men did eventually reach Siberia and survive, but De Long and others ended up dying on the ice of exposure and starvation.
Friends, we too, in search for our “North Pole,” end up following “maps” that lead us to dead ends and even destruction. For example, there are maps which tell us we will find happiness and fulfillment if we accumulate a lot of money. There is plenty of evidence that is really not the case, yet many of us seem to believe that even though money cannot buy happiness for most people, we are somehow the exception. Other people follow maps that insist status and achievement are the paths which will lead to the ultimate satisfaction for which we long. Some folks, often after being shipwrecked in the ice pack of reality, conclude they have to create their own happiness and follow a map which leads them to look inside themselves for true fulfillment. Yet this map, too, leads to a dead end.
The only map we can really trust in this quest for genuine happiness is the Bible. Through it, God reveals a path that will lead to true and eternal satisfaction. This path is really the person, Jesus Christ. He himself said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)” It is only through trusting in the Lord Jesus and seeking to follow Him that we will find real joy in this life and eternal life in the age to come.
Pastor Dan Erickson