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 that September day, the weather looked bleak. Dark clouds stretched as far as the eye could see, hanging low a couple thousand feet above us. We were in the Enchantment Lakes area of the Cascade Mountains, near Leavenworth, Washington. Our goal was to climb the South Face of Prussik 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.
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 crack rated 5.9. The kind of climbing I love to do! I began up the pitch and the unthinkable happened. The clouds opened up and it began to pour.
Our elevation was over 8000 feet and the temperature was in the thirties, so we put on what clothes we had. At that time, I was too poor to afford proper outer-ware. In a matter of minutes, I was soaked through. Good thing, I had some wool on. (For those who were 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 a break in the face with ledges and many trees. We slammed in an anchor of pieces we 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 and said, “your lead.” He belayed me using the other end of the rope. Climbing back up without any protection on an un-anchored rope 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 having a wife, children and a job, I have often asked myself, “Should I take such risks?” This question has caused me to dive into this topic and I would like to share with you the resulting answers.
To further wrap ourselves around this, consider this statement on the Solid Rock Climbers for Christ (SRCFC) website: “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 personal enjoyment? Please join me in examining this question.
In the spring of 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 their climbing experiences caused my heart to long for the 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. Some of us have been taught the words quoted by Jesus, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"
Yet, 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! God wanted life to have real consequences, and risk is what He created to bring reality into focus.
Here’s the key issue! Is risk by definition, in its very nature, good or bad? Most would conclude that it is bad. What do people say when they are considering future direction? They say, “Let’s evaluate this in terms of risk vs. reward.” But, what is the opposite of reward? Loss is. And, there’s no such thing as zero risk and 100% reward. So, the better way to evaluate a decision is by basing it in terms of realistic, potential loss vs. realistic, potential reward.
In other words, the questions are, “If I took this path, what could my potential loss realistically be?” and “If I took this path, what could my potential reward realistically be?” Paul Shultheis said, "Until you know the worst that could possibly happen and the best that could possibly happen... your equation is incomplete."
Furthermore, complete avoidance is unachievable. 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, produced 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 in is not a place of security but a place of risk. But the greater issue, the concept I want us to grasp is, “Why did God place risk in our world?”
Let’s pause for a moment and consider the greatest risk ever taken. Who took it? God! What was that risk? I would suggest it’s when He gave angels and men a free will, the ability to choose. What was His realistic potential loss? Rejection by the ones He created. 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 described 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 from “koin” as in Koinonia. Fellowship among believers is often referred to as koinonia. 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 in His creation. And because of that we have the freedom to embrace Godly risk for our own enjoyment.
So, if we know that risk exists in the world, and we are to evaluate it against potential loss, then the inevitable question arises: “how much freedom do we have in pursuing risk?” This is especially true when it comes to highly physical activities such as climbing that can have serious consequences. Let me share a couple of examples of the consequences before the question is answered.
Marcy and I attended the same church and she gave me the privilege of hearing her thoughts 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 when the accident happened. Only speculation can be offered for the cause of the accident, but when the news came, she remembers their kids screaming and wanting to run away.
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.”
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.” We must humbly acknowledge that there's a great deal of mystery involved in God's sovereign plan for each of us. 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.
So then, how much is too much? The answer to how much freedom we have can be found in the sovereignty of God and the existence of evil. The prologue to the classic animated movie Toy Story 2 shows an old man playing chess against himself. It’s funny watching him attempt to play both sides of the board, but is that how the sovereignty of God works? Is He playing both sides of the board, making all His moves and all of ours too?
Clearly this is not the case, for in the middle of God’s reigning, many terrible outcomes occur. God doesn’t prevent teenage liaisons from producing pregnancies. Fallen angels and men use their powers to commit horrendous evil daily. God doesn’t stop every bullet fired at an innocent victim, nor does He stop every plane from crashing… into a building.
So 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;” Therefore, He can't be moving all the pieces on the board, because people sin all the time. God is sovereign, yet by allowing man to have free will in a fallen world, 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.”
Does that imply that a novice climber should launch into a 5.12 X pitch (very hard climbing with protection so poor that a fall would likely result in death) trusting the outcome in God’s hands? No! That’s foolishness. Our risk taking needs to be properly weighed against the importance of 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. One of the original “Stonemasters” from the 1970s was Tobin Sorenson who 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, would not taking risk been wrong for him? 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 climbers 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 in a sport climbing accident. Almost all the risk in that climbing 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, when 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 climbing legend 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 people that a climber has depending on him/her, 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?
Matthew 4:5-7 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 would take an un-foreseen accident to cause 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.
Another way to view this idea is that risk does for us 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, 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.
In conclusion, without risk, climbing wouldn’t have the draw it has. Without risk, life would be as interesting as a man playing himself in chess. By evaluating the realistic potential reward against the realistic potential loss, and assessing whether we are within the bounds of Godly risk, we can engage in fulfilling activities and enjoy a life truly lived. Through the risk of giving man a free will, God now can enjoy a relationship with us. And, I am so glad that I can freely love Him back!
If you would like, please contact Calvin at at 541-408-5846 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!