Cogitation XVIII: I Met An Angel On The Subway

I have had a number of strange experiences in life, supernatural kind of stuff. Some are so bizarre my wife insists I cannot share them in public. Some people will be scared of me she says. Not that I had anything to do with those things. Things just happen. There are forces around us, personages unseen, as the Bible says. We’re not alone. But I see wisdom in her words. Not everything can be shared. To reveal some things will be criminal divulgence of information. Paul was exposed to state secrets he couldn’t share for instance. (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). He said it would be criminal to do so. There are confidences God expects of us. There are confidences God reposes in us that demand fiduciary maturity. There’s a breach of confidentiality that is criminal.

As background to the story I’m about to tell you I’ll have you know that perfect strangers feel very comfortable sharing intimate information with me. I can’t explain why. People tell me their secrets, things they haven’t told anyone, not even their pastor. I get thousands of mails every year from people I don’t know. Those mails contain confidential stuff – information that mustn’t get out. Some of the mails I get are confessionals of human frailty. There’s a huge trust reposed. My correspondents believe I will not trade their secrets, and I don’t. (You shouldn’t share confidences). They also know I won’t judge them. Not that I am in a position to judge a fellow human. The very definition of humanity is frailty. I have my own struggles. Christianity can be a struggle at times. But we believe in the mercy of God; and so when we miss the mark as we so often do, we trust in God’s integrity that he won’t hold it against us once we say we’re sorry. (1 John 1:8-9). And so we move on regardless of our feeling of guilt. Our feelings don’t detract God’s integrity. God by nature has a large heart. His grace is unmatchable. He forgives and forgets. Those mails and confidences humble me. Given my shortcomings only a fool will imagine he is deserving of such trust. It’s as humbling as it’s scary. And so I go to extraordinary lengths to protect confidences. There’s the nobility but there’s also the God factor.
As I ruminate over these things I realise things have been this way since my childhood. My father reposed trust in me, regularly shared confidences with me, since the tender age of five. Even our clients do, in their corporate and individual capacities. As do the staff of Alder Consulting. But it gets bizarre when that trust quotient travels with me abroad. It’s not unusual for people to slink up to me on the train and begin to share their secrets. And so I didn’t consider it out of place when this lady slinked up to me on a London underground train one dark summer night. This was fifteen years ago. It was about 9.30pm, or 10pm. I can still see her face. I can see her complexion. She was English, brunette, 5ft 6in tall. Was in a work attire – a dark woollen piece without sleeves. She looked the corporate type. By English standard she wasn’t slim, by African standard she was. Standards are cultural. She moved from her seat across the aisle and sat next to me, tentatively, like someone trying to make up her mind. She held the pole by my seat as the train swooned. She looked askew at me and asked, Can I confide something in you? I looked at her and said, Sure!
She looked at me one more time, growing more confident though not fully sure. But my answer seemed to have given her assurance at a visceral level. The train swayed, busily chugging along her path, unmindful of us. She asked what I did for a living. I told her I am a consultant. There was a shade of incomplete comprehension in her complexion that seemed to demand knowledge of my specialty. I told her the unasked, elaborating I specialised in marketing strategy. She told me she was a banker. I was right about her. She worked in the city. Oh, she also had a short scarf around her neck – blue, white and red lines like a flag of British heritage. She had apparently gone out with colleagues after work. She was heading home. She then proceeds to tell me this extraordinary business idea – a product idea actually. It was simple but powerful. She asked me what I thought of the idea. I thought it was brilliant, beguilingly brilliant, and I told her. The most powerful concepts are often simple and obvious. My brain naturally went into calculus mode thinking of how to execute the idea. It often does that, my brain; it views such discussions as challenges. Could we meet in the city to discuss the idea further I asked, to which she said yes. She seemed glad I was interested and thought the idea great. I still marvel at the simplicity of the idea. But then she made me promise not to tell anyone. I made the promise. She then gave me her business card and I gave her mine. She worked in a brand name city bank.
When I got home I narrated what happened. I thought the whole thing particularly bizarre. My in-laws were around and wanted to know what the business idea was. Of course I wouldn’t tell. I had given my word, even if to a total stranger. Monday dutifully arrived and I called the lady to arrange our meet up. But her mobile number wouldn’t go through. I tried other numbers on her card, same result. Not even the landlines went through. I would try again two days later. I narrated to the family that I couldn’t get through to her, that none of the numbers went through. That created wonder. The whole thing was strange. Perhaps she’s an angel someone volunteered. Which of course raises a number of theological questions. Can angels manifest as females? Are there female angels? We know Satan can transform into an angel of light but can angels transform into females? (2 Corinthians 11:14). When Jesus said angels neither marry NOR ARE GIVEN IN MARRIAGE is he by any stretch of imagination implying female angels exist? (Matthew 22:30) I’m scratching my head for answers. Maybe you know.
But some members of the family were convinced God had sent an angel to me with a brilliant business idea, one I was supposed to exploit. (I would secretly try the phone numbers again. None went through). There are of course simpler explanations as to why those numbers didn’t go through, but those explanations have issues of their own. It’s possible for example that she left the employ of the bank that Monday, though that won’t explain why the land lines didn’t go through. They’re independent of her employment status. Perhaps the printer made a mistake, but then she’s been using those business cards, she wasn’t a new employee. Perhaps she blocked my mobile number. But again that doesn’t explain why the landlines won’t go through. Besides it doesn’t make sense for her to block my number having told me her idea.
Why did I tell you this story? Many reasons. To force introspection for one. It raises critical questions. Do we for example mingle with angels regularly without being aware? Is there a possibility you’ve met one but didn’t realise? “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” (Hebrews 13:2 NLT) But I sense you want to know if I exploited the idea. No, I didn’t. Integrity matters. Opportunism erodes trust. Our word must mean something to us. I had given the lady my word. I told her I wouldn’t tell anyone. How can I exploit the idea without telling anyone! Besides, I will be breaking “something” indefinable. What if the whole thing was a test by God? What if the basis of the extraordinary insight I seem to possess lay in this incident? We’ll never know, but suppose it is. Is it worth trading up? There’s of course the possibility the lady is human and trying to exploit her idea. In which case I’d open myself up to litigation, or worse. Ever watched the movie, The Words? And so the secret will remain safe with me till I go to my grave.
What would YOU do? Do you keep confidences? Do you broadcast secrets? Do you blackmail or whitemail? Can you be trusted? Can God share secrets with you? David takes the issue of trust to another level in Psalm 15 as he sought to define the man qualified to worship in God’s sanctuary: “Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbours or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honour the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts…” Psalms 15:1‭-‬4 NLT. ‬The New English Translation speaks of a man who “makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.” Trustworthiness is spiritual qualification.‬ Psalms 15:‬4. ‬‬
But the big moral challenge is the question of opportunism. That opportunism is based on a subjective interpretation of the facts and it goes something like this: “If I FEEL God sent the woman to give me the idea I WILL exploit it irrespective of the promise I made. The only reason I won’t is if I feel there’s a possibility of legal liability.” The problem with such thinking is that it can take us everywhere, make us lose ourselves. We will be without character. Besides, in a world of subjective values of what use is objective value? If truth for example is subjective will there still be truth? There’ll be your truth and my truth. In that scenario will “truth” still have meaning? What then happens to Jesus’ claim to be THE TRUTH? Should we still believe him?
Lastly, what is the value of trust? Why do we need trust in society? Can society do without trust? What happens to commerce – the exchange of goods and services? What is the fate of a nation whose citizens are perceived as untrustworthy? A research on the effect of advance fee fraud, aka 419 on the fortune of Nigerians will be apt. What is unfortunate is that the criminals are statistically insignificant but the majority suffer international opprobrium.
By the way, I read about a product by a big corporation that seems eerily similar to the product idea; this was five, six years ago. Was it the lady, or not having exploited the idea did it transfer to someone else? I’ll never know.
If you’ll like to receive Jesus into your life please pray this prayer: “Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.”
© Leke Alder | #Illuminare