The stillness of a typically peaceful night at the Gallagher compound was destroyed recently when the wee morning stillness was shattered by a sudden, piercing and thoroughly ungodly sound. It was a sound that produces a reaction in one’s head that is something akin to whatever it is that goes off inside a cat that causes them to suddenly launch into a three or four foot vertical leap and then perform mid-air maneuvers that make Olympic divers and gymnasts hang their heads in shame. And just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t attempt to replicate such a performance that night, but only because the movements that the adrenalin surge were calling for in my head are physiologically impossible for humans.
It was all because of a smoke detector, and the noise seemed to be coming from everywhere. Four of those little electronic banshees just happen to be positioned close enough to one another so that in the midst of the screeching, echoing, auditory nightmare they create, it’s virtually impossible to determine which one is the culprit without multiple trips up and down a ladder. It was not my first occasion to suspect that our house was designed by architects operating under demonic influence. I’m convinced that if we allowed the military to incorporate these devices as part of our ‘enhanced interrogation’ protocols, we’d have terrorists spilling their guts faster than we could record it.
In spite of the personal drama mine caused for no apparent reason, the presence of smoke detectors is a good thing. As beneficial as they are, their invention was really quite unintentional. A would-be inventor named Walter Jaeger set out in the late 1930s to create a detector for poison gas. To his initial disappointment, he discovered that the principle upon which he was basing his invention was flawed. He had hypothesized that his sensor mechanism would detect the ionized air in the gas and trigger enough of a fluctuation in the electric current to activate the warning signal. It seemed like a good idea theoretically; it’s just that it didn’t work. The poison gas had no effect at all on his sensor. Confronted with the realization of his failure, he sat back and lit a cigarette to ponder the situation. When the smoke from his cigarette contacted the sensor, he noticed that there was a change in the electrical current, and the modern smoke detector was born. Now, 93% of the homes in America have a smoke detector of some kind installed, and multitudes of lives have been saved since they were introduced.
I recall a news story from earlier this year that was beyond tragic. A parent and three children were killed when their home caught fire in the night. That would be heartbreaking on any basis, but it was made even more troubling with the revelation that there were alarms installed in the house, but they apparently didn’t work. Had the smoke detectors worked, that family would almost certainly be alive today.
The use and value of smoke detectors is predicated on the realization that the danger of fire is real, prevalent, and almost always unanticipated. They are simple devices and have only one function. They aren’t like your smart phone. They don’t have a whole spectrum of messages they can send, and once activated, they have only one purpose. They aren’t put in place to conduct a digital discussion about the origins and sociological implications of fire. They have one primary job, and it isn’t to provide entertainment. If the volume and tone of their alarm isn’t, well… alarming, they are worthless. And by the way, they don’t wait to feel the heat. They start screeching at the slightest evidence of smoke.
Consider this. God’s prophets have often been called upon to perform a function for their people not unlike that of a spiritual smoke detector. They were sent to sound an alarm, not to radiate soothing messages to enhance the nation’s slumber. They were put in place because the threat was real. God’s impending judgment was imminent, and implications would be disastrous. Like good smoke detectors, they didn’t wait to feel the heat. They were activated because the symptoms that judgment had already begun were detectable, and immediate action was necessary if people were to be saved. Sadly, the smoke detector can’t drag a family out of bed and haul them to safety, and neither can God’s messenger.
It’s hard to be one of God’s smoke detectors—we’d rather be God’s iPod. Smoke detectors just make raucous, irritating noises, and we prefer more soothing sounds. You’ll notice that smoke detectors aren’t popular centerpieces for parties and gatherings. After all, when have you ever been invited over to a friend’s house to sit around and listen to his smoke detector? And did you ever attend a concert to hear a guy play his fire alarm for two hours? In spite of that, when we realize that the threat is real, and that the unpleasant sound we didn’t want to hear may just be our salvation, we’re suddenly deeply grateful that we heard it.
God never sends His ‘smoke detectors’ because He delights in irritating people. He sends them because He loves those who are dreaming their way to disaster, and He wants them to escape while there is still time. All of us love the pleasant sounds, and happily gather around to hear them, but the dangers we face today are real, and imminent and the pleasant sounds aren’t helping. Maybe we need something else, something more like the prophet Micah, who sounded like one of God’s smoke detectors,
“Therefore I will wail and howl…” he said, “I will make a wailing like the jackals and a mourning like the ostriches… for it [God’s judgment] has come to Judah; it has come to the gate of My people—to Jerusalem” (Micah 1:8-9 NKJV).
Micah wasn’t interested in audiences and applause—just in saving his nation from certain judgment.
So how about this, instead of watching the game this weekend, what if we had a few friends over and played our smoke detectors for them?
© 2014 Gallagher’s Pen, Ronald L. Gallagher, Ed.S. All rights reserved.
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