Risky Living: Jumping from the Ultimate Precipice

I have briefly explored the idea of good risks and bad risks in relation to the corona virus threat we have been facing over the last year. Using that as a springboard, I will explored the idea of tempting death, something, which we can’t avoid, regardless of how carefully we live. Now, I want to talk about the good risk of jumping from the ultimate precipice.

Some people gravitate toward risky behavior like a moth to the flame, and others impulsively withdraw into bubbles of protection for fear of sickness, injury and ultimately death. As one who gravitated naturally a little closer to the flames than the bubble, I lived a somewhat reckless youth. The precipice of physical danger, however, brought me to a more metaphysical precipice. The reckless attempt to find fulfillment in corporal, temporal things, led me far enough down that path to rule them out as the missing thing I really wanted.

As I read the Gospels for the first time in a college class, I recognized the truth in the statement that we should not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth. I could see that earthly treasures promised no lasting fulfillment. I had tested their capacity for fulfillment and found them wanting. I could see far enough down that road to know it contained a dead end.

Those experiences, eventually, led me to another precipice – a spiritual one. If God is real, I was on the outside looking in. I couldn’t see “in”. God stood behind a curtain to me, shrouded in mystery that I couldn’t penetrate.

I didn’t realize, then, that would find what I was seeking behind that curtain, but I was propositioned one day with the task of explaining God why He should let me in to His heaven…. That question brought me to the brink of that spiritual precipice.

His heaven… I realized in that moment that heaven (whatever heaven might be) was God’s place. He didn’t have to let me in. I was treading on His turf there, if indeed God existed, and He was under no compulsion to let me enter.

And why should He?

The answer that came from my mouth rang hollow in my heart. “I am trying to do better.” Better is a pretty relative term, but was my effort good enough? Was my effort even the best I could do? …. I knew it wasn’t.

If my best wasn’t enough, I was sunk, and I “knew” in my heart that it wasn’t enough. I knew in my heart I hadn’t even given my best.

When my questioner offered (finally) that heaven is a gift that God gives us, and we can’t earn it, I was dumbfounded.

My entire life was about earning something – earning attention, earning respect, earning grades, earning my own self-acceptance – and I was always falling short. I couldn’t even live up to my own expectations of myself. I wasn’t who I thought I should be!

My recklessness for seeking attention and acceptance and achievement turned to recklessness (for a time) in my abandonment to drinking, doing drugs and risky living. I saw that I was incapable of living up to my own dreams, so I abandoned those dreams for a time to the numbness of a narcotic stupor. Yet, I couldn’t escape the longing, and it only deepened the gap to realization of it.

I had turned back from the inevitable dead-end of a self-induced stupor to a purposeful seeking, but that which I sought I couldn’t exactly define. It wasn’t in me, but it seemed attainable. It was elusive, but I could almost taste it.

I stood at a new precipice that day, when I realized that a God who created the earth controlled whether I might enter His heaven. At the prospect that He offered it freely to me, if I would take it, I jumped.

(I have been to other precipices since that day for which the jump wasn’t as easy, maybe because I wasn’t as reckless, maybe because I took the jump more seriously, counting the cost more completely.)

I had jumped from other precipices, physical ones, in my life in attempts to find the right combination of thrill and daring that would make me feel better about myself, earn the respect or (at least) the attention of my peers and help me fit in to the world I wanted to live in and the person I thought I wanted to be. Those jumps had not brought me any closer to anything that was really satisfying, but that metaphysical jump I took when faced with the prospect of a God who “owned” heaven changed my life.

I accepted the offer. I “accepted” Jesus as my Lord and Savior (not knowing nearly well enough what that really meant). Fortunately, God took me at my word (little, though, that I knew what I was doing).

When I started this piece, I was reading The Works of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith by Sy Garte. He was a third-generation atheist, born to Russian immigrants who are members of the Communist party. He studied science and became a scientist. Along the way, the science that he was learning led him to question the philosophical naturalism and materialism that he had assumed was reality all his life.

I will end be telling the story of the precipice to which Sy Garte came. The landscape of this precipice looked different than the one to which I came many years earlier, but the decision to jump was no less momentous.

Sy Garte’s journey to faith was longer (and different) than mine. Even after he became convinced that philosophical naturalism and materialism were not accurate views of the world, he couldn’t understand faith or trust in the concept of God. It went against the inertia of everything he had always assumed was true.

Sy Garte had a dream also, which, in retrospect, helped him along. This was a real dream. Something he really experienced.

In the dream he was climbing a sheer cliff and was hanging on to the rock face that protruded out from the cliff. Being naturally afraid of heights, he was terrified that he would fall. He was holding on and straining for all that was worth. Then he heard a voice telling him to “let go”.

For whatever reason, he did it. He seems unable to explain exactly why, but He let go. For him, it wasn’t so much of a jump. as a letting go, but I see no difference in concept. As he let go in his dream, the world rotated a quarter turn, and he found himself on the ground still clinging to the rock.

I had some real brushes with physical death in the reckless way that I lived during a period in my life. Sy Garte experienced the specter of “death” in his dream. Sometimes death comes upon us in real life, and not just a dream, even when we haven’t intentionally tempted it.

One day I was driving 60 MPH down a two-lane country road. I had driven this road hundreds of times before on my way to law school. It was sunny winter morning. I could do that drive in my sleep.

In fact, I might as well have been asleep because all of a sudden there were two cars stopped in front of me right in my lane. Completely stopped.

I was hurtling down the road at 60 MPH, and I knew instantly that it was too late to stop. There was no way I could stop in time to avoid plowing into the cars in front of me on that icy road.

In the blink of an eye, I decided not to hit the brakes at all. I steered just slightly to the right (so as not to fishtail at 60 MPH) and skated by on the edge of a very narrow shoulder.

Somehow, I didn’t hit those cars, and I didn’t go off the road. There I was, still traveling 60 MPH with the cars, now, in my rear view mirror, as if nothing happened. It was surreal, but it happened just as I said.

I easily could have died in the blink of an eye (and taken people with me too), and I didn’t see it coming. I had done nothing to put myself in death’s way (other than not paying attention). I would have had no time to “make myself right with God” (not that there is any way a person can actually make himself right with God).

I will tell a final story and bring this to a conclusion. Unfortunately, this story didn’t have a “good” ending like mine.

The niece of one of our staff members was a beautiful young woman, just graduated from college and was working her dream job. She got up early in the morning, before dawn, to make the commute to work every day.

One day, a man left a bar before dawn after a night of binge drinking just about the time our paralegal’s niece was leaving for work. They met as he was driving 60 MPH down the wrong side of the toll road. She didn’t expect to encounter another vehicle driving toward her in her lane. By the time she woke to the danger, it was too late to avoid it. The impact killed her on the spot.

I don’t know why I lived through my reckless and careless youth, and I don’t know why our paralegal’s niece was not so fortunate. What I do know is that we will all die. It doesn’t matter what kind of bubble we make for ourselves, we are going to die.

We might be sidetracked from the key question by the seeming injustice of stories – that I should live through my brush with death, it was obviously caused by own negligence and failure to pay attention, while a young girl doing nothing wrong did not. If we allow ourselves to go down that road, we will miss the key question we need to answer.

We will all die. Whether we live one day or 100 years, our lives in these bodies as we known them will end. What is that compared to eternity?

God promises us eternity with Him. If we do the math, we get a better idea of the comparison of time to eternity. The Apostle Peter says 1000 years is like a day to God, and a day is like 1000 years.

A 1000 years would be like 365,000 days to us, but it’s only like one day to God. One year to us (365 days) would be 133,225,000 years (365 x 365,000), and 133,225,000 years would be like one year to God. One hundred years (a generous lifetime for us) would be like 13,322,500,000 years (13.225 Million x 100), and 13,322,500,00 (13.3225 Billion) years would be like a human lifetime to God.

This formula isn’t intended literally as a mathematical calculation of the comparison of the time span of heaven to earth. It isn’t intended as a metaphorical comparison to give us an idea of the difference.

There is no real comparison. Time is of comparatively little consequence in “heaven” where God “is”. No comparison is adequate. We can’t even imagine it.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)

Thus, the Psalmist said:

“For a day in your [God’s] courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)

We have no idea what heaven is like (it’s certainly not playing harps on clouds), but we do know that it will be infinitely better than the life we currently know, and time will be of no consequence.

Thus, it doesn’t really matter, ultimately, whether we live a single day or 100 years. One day is of no consequential difference than 100 years compared to eternity that God promises to those who would accept that promise, receive Him and commit themselves to Him.

This is the ultimate precipice.

Where do you stand in relation to the God of heaven? Will you jump? Will you let go? What are you holding onto?

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