At what point does walking along a cliff edge cease to be adventurous and begin to be dangerous?
This is the question I have been wrestling with over the past few weeks. It came up after a conversation I had about a work trip. I was going to spend a couple of days in a small town in North-East Australia and had a free evening. I knew a couple of people who had lived up there for a few years, so I asked them what I should do. The town is on the coast and so, being one who is quite fond of the froth, I asked what good beaches there are in the area. They started listing off a few spots and then ended by saying “but if you swim, you will die.” She explained to me that if the crocodiles don’t get you, the box jellyfish will (yet another example of Australia’s charm).
The problem is, a part of me still wanted to give it a shot. And I’m not crazy, though I presume that’s a claim made by most crazy people. But even though I know it’s stupid to do, a part of me wants to learn for myself. This thought was quickly stamped out by the man at the car hire place who told me about a girl who had lost her leg from a crocodile attack the day before I had arrived. So, no swimming for me.
You might be thinking, what’s the point?
My point is, this desire to test the waters, push the boundaries, live life on the edge, or whatever you want to call it, has permeated my personal faith journey. From my experience, Adventists have a tendency to be a tad legalistic with some things, which made me and my friends compete over who could get the closest to breaking a ‘rule’ without actually doing it. Think, the scene from Finding Nemo where the young fish see who can get closest to touching the boat.
I don’t know if my friends and I did this because we are guys and had something to prove. Or if we wanted to rebel against the system. Or if we were just bored. But what I do know is that I am not alone in this experience. I think that our sixth sense for knowing right and wrong has bred dangerously daring young people. Perhaps we have placed such an emphasis on what doing wrong looks like that we have not given ourselves any clear goals to aim for in our own walk with God. As long as we don’t do the wrong thing, we’re all good, right? It doesn’t matter how close we get to breaking the ‘rules’, because as long as they remain intact, there’s not a problem. Can you see the issue here?
We may be encouraging our young people to walk on the cliff-edges of sin rather than staying well away from the edge. Curiosity often gets the best of those who aren’t sure whether it is worth aiming a particular ideal. And this is not the fault of past generations. Perhaps the most powerful argument for the Gospel is someone who acts, dresses, and has grown up like you, and lives in such as way that God looks good on them.
But this doesn’t just have to be about our faith. I’m a pastor, so that is naturally where my mind goes. But this same principle applies to our relationships, our work or study, and even to our health. It doesn’t make sense for someone who is valued by God to live on the edge. You wouldn’t carry a massive diamond on the edge of a cliff. You’d get as far away from that cliff as possible because you want to make sure you’re protecting the valuable thing. That is how I think God sees things when we push the envelope. He sees us—His creation whom He values so much—in danger, and He desperately wants us to get away from the things that can hurt us. But He gives us the freedom to choose how close to the edge we go.
I want to be clear that I am not advocating for cotton wool to be wrapped around everyone because I firmly believe that comfort is not an ingredient for spiritual growth. In fact, I am a strong advocate for intentional discomfort for the purpose of stretching and growing oneself. I think faithful stewardship means that we respond to the value God places on us not by flirting with wrongdoing, but by intentionally striding in the purpose He has placed on our lives.