I don’t understand the popularity of extreme sports. You will never see me schlepping a pack up K2 or scrambling up Mt. Everest’s icy peaks. Nor will you find me bouncing up and down at the end of a bungee cord or climbing into an Indy race car. The most dangerous sport you’ll catch me at will probably be Mario Kart. To my way of thinking, life is challenging enough without taking on an activity that could, with one miscalculation, end in death or maiming.
Why do some people find such joy in pushing the limits? Is it the rush they get from flirting with danger? Is it the feeling that they are somehow bigger than life or the belief that ordinary rules don’t apply to them?
Though most of us don’t engage in extreme sports, many of us have made pushing the limits a habit. We sleep less so we can do more. Push, push, push has become an American mantra. Unfortunately, it has also added tremendous stress to our lives.
Wayne Muller points out that “we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: No living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms that govern how life grows . . . seasons and sunsets and great movements of seas and stars. . . . We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms. . . .
“To surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies is to savor the secret of life itself.”1
If you are living a rush, rush life, ask yourself why. Are you willing to pay the cost of regularly ignoring the God-given rhythms by which creation operates? Find a way to slow down and “surrender to the rhythms of seasons and flowerings and dormancies” so that as one of God’s creatures you can savor the secret of life.
1. Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (New York: Bantam, 1999), 69.
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Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, advises Christians that “faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it.” He says, “People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. . . . It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them.”1
By saying this, I don’t think Keller is saying we should doubt God’s faithfulness whenever we encounter difficulty. This brand of doubting makes us weak, leading, as it does, to unbelief. Instead, Keller is arguing for a kind of intellectual honesty that requires us to grapple with hard questions in a way that will make our faith stronger, not weaker.
Keller has also famously advised skeptics to doubt their doubts about Christianity. Perhaps it would also be wise to advise the weakest among us to begin to doubt our doubts about God’s character. God says he is a loving Father, and we act as though we are orphans. God reveals himself as all-powerful, but we don’t think he can help us. God tells us he forgives, and we cling to our guilt.
The reason for our doubts? Sister Wendy Beckett archly observes that many who call themselves Christians may well have embraced a false god. “Sometimes I blush for those who think themselves Christian,” she says, “and yet the God they worship is cruel, suspicious, punitive and watchful. Who could love such a God?”
She goes on to say, “I have the greatest admiration for atheists, because by definition they have rejected a false ‘God.’2 Her point, of course, is not that atheists are right in rejecting God, but that they are at least right in rejecting a caricature of God that contains more shadows than light. Though the God we love will always be mysterious, we can be sure of one thing—in him there is no darkness at all.
1. Timothy Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008), xvi.
2. Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy on Prayer (New York: Harmony Books, 2006), 83.
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Perhaps you’ve heard of Bethany Hamilton, the thirteen-year-old surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack in Hawaii. Her story is told in the movie Soul Surfer. Early on, we see Bethany attending a youth night at her church. Youth leader Sarah Hill, played by Carrie Underwood, is showing the group a series of zoomed-in photos, challenging them to guess what they’re looking at. When the second photo pops up on the screen, one of the boys guesses it’s a “dead, rotting brain.” While the teens are busy voicing their revulsion, Sarah zooms out, revealing the truth. They hadn’t been viewing anything half as gross as a rotting brain. It was merely an ordinary walnut. Sarah’s point was that when you’re too close to what’s happening, it can be tough to have perspective.
Remember the old saying “Time heals”? Time has the power to put distance between us and the circumstances that caused our suffering. Though distance can’t erase our suffering, it can help us stand back a bit, enabling us to see a bigger picture. Often the only way to get to that bigger picture is by clinging to God, refusing to believe he has abandoned us. We also get there by listening for his voice, by reading his Word and praying, and by staying in touch with other believers who can support us through it.
When interviewed about the movie, Carrie Underwood later commented on how impressed she was when she met the real Bethany. “She didn’t ask, ‘Why me?’” Carrie noted, “but ‘What for?’”
Anyone who has suffered some kind of tragedy knows that “Why me?” questions aren’t off the table. God allows them. But often he doesn’t answer them. If you want an answer, the more productive question to ask is “What for?”
Bethany’s answer to her own “What for?” question about the shark attack was shaped by the intense media response to her story. To reporters who asked how she could respond so positively to what had happened, she simply replied, “I could never have embraced this many people with two arms.”
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I yelled at my daughter the other day. Truth be told, it wasn’t the first time. Though I want to become a more peaceful mom, I often find my own sin getting in the way. Like me, you may have sinful habits and patterns that get in the way of enjoying the peace God promises. Some of these may plunge you into prolonged periods of guilt. How can you remain confident of God’s fatherly love, despite your own frequent failings? John Piper has an interesting take on this problem.
To the fallen saint who knows the darkness is self-inflicted and feels the futility of looking for hope from a frowning judge, the Bible gives a shocking example of gutsy guilt. It pictures God’s failed prophet beneath a righteous frown, bearing his chastisement with brokenhearted boldness:
Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light. Micah 7:8-9, ESV
This is courageous contrition. Gutsy guilt. The saint has fallen. The darkness of God’s indignation is on him. He does not blow it off, but waits. And he throws in the face of his accuser the confidence that his indignant judge will plead his cause and execute justice for (not against) him. This is the application of justification to the fallen saint. Brokenhearted, gutsy guilt.1
Join me in admitting that you’re not a perfect person—that you have sins and failings too. As you do that, make a promise to yourself and to God that the next time you stumble, you will not wallow in guilt. Let’s accept God’s discipline, realizing that he is acting as a good father should. Instead of giving in to the enemy’s lies, let’s throw them back in his face, trusting in God’s unfailing love.
(1) John Piper, quoted in Josh Etter, “Learn the Secret of Gutsy Guilt,” Desiring God (blog), accessed May 13, 2011, http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/learn-the-secret-of-gutsy-guilt.
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