The Smoke Test

blue and white smoke digital wallpaper
Photo by Rafael Guajardo on

The Smoke Test

{Looking for failure first}

Warren E. Berkley

Those who know me may remember I did my time in the service in the 1960’s as a musician in an Army band. You may think I got to get up everyday and blow my horn. Well I did. But in the military there are usually other things you have to do, by assignment, that may not be your primary specialty.

I was given the assignment of setting up recording equipment in the band hall for rehearsal purposes. We asked for an audio engineer but that requisition wasn’t fulfilled. We did receive a truckload of professional recording equipment. That consisted of a reel-to-reel tape deck, pre-amplifier, mixer, four mics, boom arms and pedestals, a couple of hundred feet of cable, an output amplifier and speakers. The shipment came in one afternoon. The old man assigned me and another soldier to assemble it all, to be ready for use the next day!

We stayed with the task all night long. I was a trumpet player. He was a flute player. There were no written instructions. That night we did something commonly called a “smoke test.”  We would plug a cable in and see if smoke appeared. If there was no smoke, we would congratulate ourselves and try another connection. The problem with that method was (and is), where there is smoke there is … That’s right. Once there is smoke, something has been damaged already. After burning through a fuse and a couple of connectors, we finally got the sound room equipped with the recording gear and all was well.

This brings to the surface a common approach that needs analysis.  When your first step is to see if something fails, you are already into risk territory. Our approach contained a high level of risk and revealed that we were (a) in a hurry and (b) were not well informed. While we didn’t burn up the equipment, our approach amounted to, “we don’t know if this will work, let’s see what happens.” That’s not high on any scale of wisdom or efficiency. But the “smoke test” lives on in many areas of life.

In marriage, singles may think and even say, “we don’t know if marriage will work for us, but let’s see how it works out.” In this case, smoke may mean divorce, with all the damage that ensues when that happens. This is a case like my experience with electronic equipment. The first step is to see if the relationship fails. There is a far better approach. Go way back to the beginning when marriage first started. Who instituted marriage? Shouldn’t He be consulted? Reading what God has said with humble submission to His superior will is far better than the smoke text. “We don’t know what will happen, let’s see if this works?” Let God tell you what ought to happen. (Matt. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4)

In parenting, those who’ve not attended to wisdom may remark, “we don’t know how to do this, but we will rely on trial and error.” Such a “plan” demonstrates that the parents don’t really know what they are doing. And “trial and error” does not generate trust in the hearts of children. Thoughtful and deliberate approaches to parenting can be accessed by opening God’s book. (Eph. 6:1-4)

In social media, there isn’t any doubt the “smoke test” has gained traction. “I don’t know if this is true. I’ll just post or tweet it and see what happens.” That’s a high level of risk that you are spreading misinformation (error). Altered photos pass through fiber-optic cables millions of times per second, and while no visible smoke may appear, the fire of falsehood is distributed and re-distributed. (Col. 3:9; Prov. 23:23)

Trial and error can lead to more trial and error! Read the instructions. Get help. It can all work without the “smoke test.”

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