Considering God's View of Risky Recreationby Calvin Landrus - Director of SRCFC
As Lauren got down and kissed the ground, I realized that I had just had my first epic. When we got up on that September day, the weather looked bleak. Dark clouds as far as the eye could see, only a couple thousand feet above us. We were in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Cascade Mountains near Leavenworth, WA. Our goal was to climb the South Face of Prusik Peak (Grade III, 5.9). Being only twenty-two years old, I was fully confident we could run up the route and back down before the clouds ripped open. Lauren, having less experience and using me for a rope gun, reluctantly agreed with my optimistic choice.
Quickly, we readied ourselves for the short walk from our camp to the base of the route. At the base, the clouds began to thicken but I had no thought of bailing. After an opening hard 5.8 chimney, the climbing eased back. We were making good time, and the clouds still were holding the rain.
After several hundred feet of climbing, we arrived at the base of the last pitch, the crux of the route. It is a beautiful, nearly vertical 100-foot, 5.9 pitch. The kind of climbing I love to do! I began up the pitch and the unthinkable happened. It began to rain with great intensity.
We were over 8000 feet. The temperature was in the thirties. We put on what clothes we had. I was too poor to afford a Gore-Tex jacket. In a matter of minutes, I was soaked through. Good thing, I had some wool on. (For those brought up on modern gear, this is what we once wore to keep us warm while wet.)
Our only option was to rappel. Having a 150-foot rope, the standard at the time, it was going to take us many raps to get off. On our right was break in the face with ledges and many trees. We slammed in an anchor of pieces were willing to leave behind and started down. With numb hands and hypothermia a real possibility, we carefully but quickly descended.
Our second to last rappel brought us back into the chimney where we had started. Standing on a chock stone, we pulled the rope. Oh, no! The rope was stuck twenty feet above. No matter how hard we pulled, the rope wouldn’t budge. The sides of the chimney were dripping, so our only option was to hand-over-hand it up the stuck rope. Lauren looked at his rope gun, said, “your lead” and belayed me using the other end of the rope. The climbing back up was without any protection on an rope that wasn’t anchored was unnerving. When I arrived at the ledge where the rope was stuck, I was scared spit-less. I slammed in an anchor and rapped back down to Lauren. We pull the rope, threaded it and gave it a toss. We rejoiced as the ends of the rope touch the ground!
Great epic! Tremendous adventure! But full of risk! As I have aged, taken on the responsibilities of a wife, children and a job, I have asked myself, “Should I take such risks?” This thought has caused me to dive into this topic.
On SRCFC's website, we have this statement, “WARNING! Activities described and depicted within this site carry a significant risk of personal injury or death. Rock climbing, ice climbing, mountaineering, and all other outdoor activities are dangerous.” As a Christian have you ever considered the ethics of taking a risk for your own personally enjoyment? Please join me in examining this question.
In the spring 1978, I took the Spokane Mountaineers Climbing School. Wow, the excitement and the thrill of learning how to climb. Oh, the danger of it all! I was drawn to the adventures that climbing promised. To hear the near death experiences of our instructors (I’m sure they embellished them!) as they calmly explained the climbing experience caused my heart to long for wild side of living.
Why was I attracted to climbing? Why are you? I believe one of the biggest draws by far is a little four-letter word, with a very big meaning, that word is RISK!
In our society, most of us are taught to do everything we can to reduce the element of danger in our lives. We have been taught the words quoted by Jesus, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Do you know how dangerous it is to drive or ride in a car? Your odds of dying in an automobile accident every year are 1 in 6700 (David Ropiek, Parade Magazine, March 30, 2003). Are you putting God to the test every time you get in a car? Ordinary living has risk. WHY? Because God designed the universe to be risky existence! God wanted life to have reality, and risk is what He placed in to bring reality into focus.
Here’s the key issue! Is risk by nature, by definition, good or bad? It would seem to me that most conclude that it is bad. What do people say when they are considering future direction? They say, “Let’s evaluate in terms of risk vs. reward.” But, what is the opposite of reward? The better way to is to evaluate the realistic, potential lost vs. realistic, potential reward.
In other words, the questions are, “If I took this path my, potential lost realistically could be?” and “However, if I took this path, my potential reward realistically could be?” Often, people equate risk with lost; that’s not enough! Paul Shultheis said, "Until you know the worst that could possibly happen and the best that could possibly happen... your equation is incomplete."
Helen Keller realized life without risk is an illusion. She said, "Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of man as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure”.
If you have any doubts as to whether or not God embraces risks, consider and evaluate his creation! Look into the eyes of a thunderstorm, hurricane, tornado and blizzard, what do you see? Consider the force of a volcanic eruption, an earthquake or landslide, what do you sense? See the prowl of a tiger, the growl of a grizzly and sudden attack of a great white, what do you feel? Fear? Produce by danger, found in God’s creation. What is God’s evaluation of creation? It’s declared in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
Whether you like it or not, the world that God created and that you live is not a place of security but a place of risk. But the great issue, the concept I want us to grasp is, “Why did God place risk our we world?”Let’s consider the greatest risk every taken. Who took it? God! What was that risk? I would suggest it’s when He gave angels and men a free will. What was his realistic potential lost? Rejection of a relationship with Him. What was his realistic potential gain? Love and adoration freely expressed to Him! God’s gain was and is fellowship!
"Fellowship" is the English translation of words from the Hebrew with the stem of “hbr.” It is used to express ideas such as common or shared house. David often describe his relationship with God using the shared house concept. “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” Psalms 27:4
In the Greek, fellowship stems “koin” as in Koinonia. Fellowship among believers is often thought of as Koinonia. More often it was Paul's favorite word to describe a believer's relationship with the risen Lord and the benefits of salvation through Him.
God demonstrated how important relationships are to Him in the parable of the lost sheep. Luke 15: 3-7 says, “Then Jesus told them this parable: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
The shepherd was commended for seeking the lost one, while risking the 99 left behind. And what was the reaction once the lost was found? Rejoicing! God took the risk of giving man a free will so that a He might rejoice in a relationship with you. God took the biggest risk of all time so that He might find pleasure. And because of that we have the freedom to embrace Godly risk for our own enjoyment.
Why Did God risk loving us?
“What are the risks of loving someone? One of the greatest is losing them.” Marcy and I attend the same church and recently she shared her thoughts with me about the death of her husband while ice climbing near Cody, Wyoming in December of 2000. Duane and his partner had finished the climb and were preparing to descend. Only speculation can be offered for the cause of the accident, but when the news came, she remembers the kids screaming and her daughter wanting to run.
When Joe Tasker died in 1982 high on the unclimbed Northeast Ridge of Everest, his girlfriend of two and a half years, Maria Coffey, was left behind. In her book, Where the Mountain Casts Its Shadows, she chronicles her journey. She writes, “’He died doing what he loved best,’ they always say. But when climbers meet their end on the high peaks, the ordeal is just beginning for their wives, husbands, children, parents, and friends.”
Previously, I argued that we have the freedom to embrace Godly risk for our own enjoyment. With the knowledge that our climbing can have serious consequences, this sounds contradictory! Let’s review how we arrived there. We learned that the world God created is not a place of security but a place of risk. We considered, “Why did God place risk in our world?” The answer was so that He could experience a relationship with mankind where love and adoration were freely expressed. God took the biggest risk of all time so that He might find pleasure. Therefore, by following His example, taking risk in life is acceptable.
New, we will consider how the sovereignty of God fits into all of this and suggest guidelines for determining when risk is Godly. Have you seen the prologue to the animated movie Toy Story 2? It shows an old man playing chess against…himself. It’s funny watching him attempt to play both sides of the board. Is that how the sovereignty of God works? Is He playing both sides of the board, making all His moves and all ours too?
Clearly, this is not so. In the middle of God’s reigning, many terrible outcomes occur. Does God prevent teenage liaisons from producing pregnancies? Fallen angels and men use their powers to commit horrendous daily evil. Does God stop every bullet fired at an innocent victim? Does He stop every plane from crashing… into a building? Does God cause these people to sin or cause this evil? James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;” Then He can't be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time. God is Sovereign! But allowing for man to have a free will, bad things can and do happen.
The scriptures say that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45) Additionally, in John chapter 9, Jesus’ disciples asked him “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” He answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
We must humbly acknowledge that there's a great deal of mystery involved in God's sovereign plan for each of us. With time giving perspective, Marci said, “I’m not mad at God or Duane. I’ve learned that God’s calendar is not mine. I’ve learned ‘WHY?’ will not be answered here on earth.” One of the truths of our lives which we stuff way back in our consciousness is that we are destined to die. (Hebrews 9:27) Whether it’s through climbing or another way, God has ordained a time for us to die.
Does that imply that a novice climber should launch into a 5.12 R pitch trusting the outcome in God’s hands? No! That’s foolishness. Our risk taking needs to be balanced against being a good steward of our lives. Therefore let me suggest a few guidelines for determining Godly risks.
Motive: Glorifying God or Self?
Colossians 3:17 says, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Most climbers allow climbing to become their reason for living, their God. Much risk-taking happens to bring glory to self. Doing it for self is not godly. At the same time, God has created people to climb for His glory. Tobin Sorenson pushed the risk standards. Bruce Adams in Tobin’s obituary in Climbing wrote, “Tobin understood the risks he took might bring death at a young age. The thought often robbed him of sleep. However, he believed, as he told me, that God had created him to climb mountains, and thus he would climb to the best of his ability. He saw that his talent did not belong to himself but rather to God who entrusted him with it.” For Tobin, not taking risk would have been wrong. Our motive needs to be one in which we glorify God as we enjoy the risk-infused world that He created!
Responsibilities: Who is depending on you?
Although non-climbers and new ones don’t understand this, experienced climbers recognize an increasing scale of risk as you move through the climbing types. For example, you would need to work really hard to die sport climbing. Almost all the risk is only perceived. According to the Accidents in North American Mountaineering (American Alpine Club), the climbing related deaths are in line with normal accidental death rates. However, you move into the alpine environment, there are many objective dangers (rock/ice fall, weather, avalanches and crevasses, etc.) that give a rise to the risk. Add the factors of high altitude mountaineering and the risk-level rises to beyond normal. Maria Coffey questioned Royal Robbins on this topic. He said, “We have to remember that if we’re talking about true risk, occasionally there has to be a price paid.” She pressed him by asking, “By whom? The people left behind?” “Yes,” he says, “That’s part of the largeness of the price.” The more climbers have others depending on them the less amount of risk they should take. This is not a black and white issue and is a matter of prayer and counsel.
Wisdom: Are you putting God to the test?
I have had non-climbers imply that I’m putting God to the test by climbing. Are they right? The concept is found in Matthew 4:5-7. It says, “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down. For it is written: "'He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.' Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”
Obviously, we aren’t jumping off our climbs expecting God to catch us. However, a general principal can be inferred. By using ropes, protection, and helmets, etc. and becoming experienced before going to the next level, we aren’t putting God to the test. We can confidently enter into a risky situation if it will take an accident for negative outcome to happen. In some situations if we leave the ropes behind or we push our bodies beyond their capacities, we can cross into ungodly risk.
For me, risk does what the sun does for the earth? Risk provides energy for living! It gives vigor, oomph, get-up-and-go to life. But there is a balance. You can have too much sun and you can have too little sun. If you get too little of the sun, what happens? You freeze and die. On the other hand, too much of it and you get burned-up and die. Risk-taking for our own enjoyment must always be below the threshold of not putting God to the test.
Without risk, climbing wouldn’t have the draw it has. Without risk, life wouldn’t have reality. Through the risk of giving man free will, God enjoys a relationship with us. The cost was to send Jesus Christ as our Savior. With that in mind our only response is to love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
If you would like to comment about is article, please contact Calvin at at 541-385-6735 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!