Ghost Riding and Risk
CNN is playing in the background as I write this. They’re doing a report on ghost riding – when the driver of a moving vehicle purposefully leaves the wheel unmanned while riding on the hood, on the top, or wherever else he can find for some joyful moments. I’m watching as they report about kids who have died and others who have been mangled from experimenting with ghost riding. There’s one guy they’re interviewing who is bragging about how he never does it without being sure he’s in a safe and controlled environment. Brilliant.
Here’s a tip. It’s free. NEVER DO THIS! Find your kicks and thrills somewhere else. You have way too much life to live. And I can think of about ten other ways I would rather die than by being run over by my own moving car. I can’t even imagine trying to explain that to God in heaven.
Risks. People take them all the time. They find thrills in many different ways. My brother always wanted to sky dive. I never wanted to. He hasn’t done it yet, but I’m sure he will one day. My two other brothers did bungee jump over the crashing, raging Nile River. I saw the video and wasn’t impressed. I’m not afraid of heights, but I can think of other things to do for thrills, like reading books.
I think the apostle Paul was a lot like my brothers. He took risks. He was an extreme guy. Risk was something that he understood to be a logical part of the Christian faith. Listen to his description of some of the hardships he faced:
“Five times I received from the Jews 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the depths of the sea. On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the open country, dangers on the sea, and dangers among false brothers; labor and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and lacking clothing” (2 Cor 11:24-27).
Paul suffered. Paul took risks. And he didn’t think it was abnormal. Does that sound contradictory to the way we normally experience Christianity? See, I believe there exists a tendency, at least among Christians in America, to equate faith in Jesus with safety. Most of us in America could never imagine the horrors the Apostle Paul experienced staring death’s door in the face countless times over. We cry and pout when the express lane is backed up into the aisle. We panic and get angry when God doesn’t open up a parking space toward the front. We curse and blame God when He calls a loved one home to heaven, when we should be rejoicing for their homecoming.
Agreed, there is an element of pain and suffering that we, as Christians in America, will likely never face in comparison with believers in closed countries such as China, North Korea, and Sudan. But safety, as we normally think of it, is a complete contradistinction to our faith.
Now, don’t press the example of ghost riding too hard. It’s not meant to be an analogy. Merely an example. As followers of Christ, I don’t think we’re called to be reckless. But somewhere along the way we’ve developed this mentality that Christians should forever live “safe and secure from all alarms.”[i] At the very best, I think this is bad theology. Paul never taught this. Nor did he live this. And here’s where the hypocrisy comes in. In every other area of life, a certain amount of risk is expected and assumed. Here’s what John Piper says about this inconsistency:
Risk is woven into the fabric of our finite lives. We cannot avoid risk even if we want to. Ignorance and uncertainty about tomorrow is our native air. All of our plans for tomorrow’s activities can be shattered by a thousand unknowns whether we stay at home under the covers or ride the freeways . . . The tragic hypocrisy is that the enchantment of security lets us take risks every day for ourselves but paralyzes us from taking risks for others on the Calvary road of love.[ii]
We’ll pull out of our driveway and accept a certain amount of risk as we travel to our destination. We’ll accept a new job opportunity with the understanding that it may or may not lead anywhere. We’ll enroll in college and gladly accept the uncertainties that come with it. But we’ll never share our faith with a lost friend, because of the risk of rejection. We’ll never lay our Bible on our desk for fear of the risk of being intolerant. This is inconsistent. Concerning our faith in Christ, we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking that risk and uncertainty do not coexist with salvation and victorious Christian living.
We accept risk in normal life. We reject risk in Christianity. We’re simply inconsistent.
In what ways have you segregated risk from Christianity in your mind and actions?
[i] From the hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” by Elisha A. Hoffman.
[ii] John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), p. 81.