hen I saw the story about BASE jumping in the Washington Post
(November 4, 2007, p. 1), I was struck immediately by two things: its danger and its stupidity. The title of the piece was grave enough (“A Heightened Chance of Death”), but it wasn’t half as shocking as what the article itself contained.
BASE jumping (acronym for parachute free falls from buildings, antennas, spans, or earth) is illegal across the East Coast of the U.S., said the article’s author, Eli Saslow, except in the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, where it becomes lawful for six hours one Saturday each October. The event “draws about 400 jumpers and 165,000 spectators.” In 2006, wrote Saslow, “one of BASE jumping’s pioneers died when his parachute deployed too close to the ground. After [only] a 27-minute delay, the next jumper leapt off the platform.”
It was this dangerous “sport” that brought 36-year-old real estate developer Heather Loughlin of Vermont to Fayetteville last October, fully aware she might die there. She would leap off a 900-foot bridge, the second-highest in the United States, with the high possibility of landing on some hidden rock, boulder, or fallen tree. Medics with headboards would wait below, Saslow said, “to carry the injured into nearby ambulances.” Leaning over the edge of the bridge to take in the enormity of the chasm, Loughlin flinched. “There’s like a thousand ways to get mangled down there,” she said.
When her turn came, she would “buckle her helmet and jump off the bridge, her life tethered to a rented parachute.” “If her jump went badly, . . . [she] would hit the ground in 8.8 seconds while traveling 125 mph. The force of impact would break her ribs, ripping them through her internal organs and killing her instantly.” “Veterans of BASE jumping . . . call their sport the most dangerous in the world, with only 1,200 experienced jumpers and at least 115 fatalities.”
Appreciating the life God gave me as much as I do, I cannot imagine a scenario that would cause me to put it in such needless jeopardy.
But how should we view risk-taking? In the words of Steve Pavlina, “Some risks are just plain dumb.” But there are other kinds worth taking. “Progress,” said Frederick Wilcox, “always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” Or as someone else put it, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
Indeed, all of life entails risk—necessary risk: when we step out of bed in the morning (will the floor sustain our weight?); when we get behind the wheel or ride the bus for the commute to work; when we step into the elevator; when we set foot into an airplane without the foggiest idea who the pilot is. Then there’s optional risk, when we invest our means. We take creative risk when we learn to scuba dive or do parachute jumps (a far cry from BASE jumping, incidentally).
These all constitute intelligent risk. Our lives would be diminished if we did not take them. They benefit us personally and society as a whole.
And above all, there’s what I’d call benevolent risk. The firefighter goes into a burning building to search for a little child. Rescuers brave sub-zero blizzard weather to rescue a stranded hiker; soldiers slip behind enemy lines to snatch a captured comrade.
That’s what Jesus did. That’s the cosmic “gamble.” I use the word advisedly, as you notice; yet there’s something to it—something deep, amazing, mysterious. It comes through in that extraordinary statement by Ellen G. White in her classic on the life of Jesus. Take time, if you will, to ponder it, to grasp a little of its profound significance—the italics are mine:
“Satan in heaven had hated Christ for His position in the courts of God. He hated Him the more when he himself was dethroned. He hated Him who pledged Himself to redeem a race of sinners.
Yet into the world where Satan claimed dominion God permitted His Son to come, a helpless babe, subject to the weakness of humanity. He permitted Him to meet life’s peril in common with every human soul, to fight the battle as every child of humanity must fight it, at the risk of failure and eternal loss” (The Desire of Ages, p. 49).
And to think He took such incredible risk for the likes of us! That’s awesome; incomprehensible; beyond astonishing.
Roy Adams is associate editor of the Adventist Review.