True North vs Magnetic North

What is the difference between True North and Magnetic North?

True north (or geographical north)is constant, never shifting. However, magnetic north is the direction towards the north magnetic pole. It is called a wandering point and is constantly changing.

Most compasses point towards Earth’s north magnetic pole, usually in a different place to the north geographic pole (it can be as much as 19 degrees different in Johannesburg). The difference between magnetic north and true north is called magnetic declination. So why is this important? Glad you asked. There is a rule in navigation called the 1 in 60 rule. This rule says that for every 1-degree error when navigating, there will be a 1-mile deviation from your desired destination for every 60 miles travelled. The distance from Johannesburg to Cape Town is about 1,400 km (or 875 miles). If you didn’t adjust your magnetic north to true north (the magnetic deviation is about 19 degrees in Johannesburg), you would end up in the ocean somewhere, 443km (277 miles) away from where you thought you were headed! To help with an illustration, I want to use the idea of true north and magnetic north as a metaphor in our lives.

One of the running themes in the Bible’s New Testament is that of the spirit (true north) and the flesh (magnetic north). The Apostle Paul explains that desires set on the spirit is life, but desires set on the flesh is death. In the depths of our hearts, humanity has been designed to desire life (our true north); however, our desires often become disordered because of the cultures that we live in – pulling our hearts off true north one degree at a time. So let’s quickly explain the terms of flesh and spirit.

Let’s Make This Practical

A person’s spirit is that part of us that has been created to be in contact with the Spirit of God. It represents the deepest desires that God placed within us when He created us, desires to be in an unbroken relationship with Him.  Our flesh is not talking about our physical bodies (our bodies were created good). Instead, it represents the disordered desires we find ourselves battling because of the world we live in. These desires direct our longings away from God, aiming our love at the pleasures around us.

The Apostle Paul explains that desires set on the Spirit lead to life, but desires set on the flesh lead to death (Romans 8:6). In the depths of our hearts, humanity has been designed to desire life (our true north); however, our desires often become mixed up (disordered) because of the cultures that we live in – pulling our hearts off true north one degree at a time.James K. Smith notes that “our loves are pulled magnetically to some north toward which our hearts have been calibrated.”13 Our hearts become orientated towards some picture of the good life that we are presented with by the culture we live in.

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By Trevor Hartley