Tag Archives: risk

Grasshopper or Locust, Part II

I can’t get past Numbers 13, so bear with me. Last time, I focused on the end of the chapter when the bulk of the scouts sent to check out the Promised Land declared themselves grasshoppers in comparison to the scary people they would be facing. Today, I’d like to slide back to the opening of the chapter, Numbers 13:1-3:

The Lord spoke to Moses:  “Send men to scout out the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites. Send one man who is a leader among them from each of their ancestral tribes.”  Moses sent them from the Wilderness of Paran at the Lord’s command. All the men were leaders in Israel.

The twelve men sent out, men who are named in the ensuing verses, were leaders among their respective tribes. Lest we miss that fact, it’s repeated in these verses. They were leaders.

Leaders? This is what leaders do? These guys came back from their little tour. From everything I can discern they all stayed together and saw the same things. After seeing those things, some of them–we don’t know how many–said, “Yeah, the land’s really great but there’s no way we can conquer it.”

Were these guys really leaders? Weren’t they the same leaders who had seen all the mighty works of the Lord in the preceding year? Honestly, they behaved more like Muppets than men.

After this Muppetry, Caleb stands up and presents the minority report:

Let’s go up now and take possession of the land because we can certainly conquer it!

That’s a leader! But the others became more determined in their cowardice. They compared themselves, as we saw before, to grasshoppers. Are you a grasshopper or a locust? These guys were content to be grasshoppers.

Before you jump to their defense and say things about the better part of valor and leaders exercising prudence, let’s look back to Numbers 13:17-20. Did Moses ask them to determine whether or not they advised an attack? No. Back in Numbers 13:2, God declared this to be “the land of Canaan I am giving to the Israelites.” He was giving it to them. These twelve were just to figure out the details.

The last two instructions Moses gave are intriguing to me:

Be courageous. Bring back some fruit from the land.

Be courageous and bring me some fruit. What a combo! The twelve men did the second of these but failed in the first. Why, if the people were so formidable, did the scouts slow themselves down with a two-person bunch of grapes? Could it be that they had more of a stomach for grapes than for any hint of danger?

Of course, the ten weak-willed spies received their punishment fairly quickly. But how often are we just as faithless? We’re pleased to accept the fruits of God’s provision but we back away when there’s a whisper of risk. Am I man or am I muppet? A grasshopper or a locust?

Stay in Bed and Avoid Problems: Ecclesiastes 10:8-9

Whoever digs a pit may fall into it;

whoever breaks through a wall may be bitten by a snake.
Whoever quarries stones may be injured by them;
whoever splits logs may be endangered by them.Ecclesiastes 10:8-9
As I sit here this morning, taking a bit of slow start to the day, I have time toreflecton various things. It is 7:41. I didnt get up at 6:00 or even at 7:00 today. Since I didnt have to go to work and Olivia didnt have to go to work, there was no rush. Theres been rain falling gently for the last 90 minutes or so, so my mind said,Stay in bed and avoid problems.”
Lifes problems can be best avoided, I think, by doing nothing. Think about it. If I never mow my grass, then I will never risk injuring myself with the lawnmower. If I dont drive anywhere, then I cannot get into an automobile accident. If I dont brush my teeth, theres no chance of me choking on toothpaste. I could go on.
In the verses quoted here, Solomongives four examples of ways that work can seem to be foolishness. Is this to be read as saying that work is folly? Im not going to dig a hole, because I might fall into it. Or is he simply pointing out that every worthwhile thing has its attendant dangers?
Life has its risks. If I go through life without risk, then it is really not life. I wrote recently about Dean Potter, a famous climber who died in a BASE jumping accident. I dont have a lot of sympathy for people who risk their necks foolishly, but is such risk really worse than risking your life by not living it?Wouldyou ratherhave your life cut short when youre doing something or to have your life cut short because you spent it sitting on the couch watching reruns of MASH?
Throughout Ecclesiastes, yourun intothat wordmeaningless.I try to make sense of that word by substitutingWhats up with that?
Throughout this chapter and throughout life, we have a series of examples of things that dont make a great deal of sense. But our job is not really to make sense of life and all of its details. If you cut stones you might get hurt by them. Whats up with that? No, it doesnt seem fair. It doesnt really make sense, but thats just the way life is. Life under the sun doesnt always make sense, but thats okay. We cant hold out for sense. Instead, we just need to accept the risk. Then enjoy our food and drink and work. Thats the fate of man under the sun.

The Rise and Fall of Dean Potter

I have to admit that I’d never heard of Dean Potter until he died a few days ago at age 43. Since then, I’ve been reading a bit about this guy, and let me say that watching videos of his most extreme adventures gives me the willies.

What killed Potter was a BASEjump, leaping not from a perfectly good airplane but from a perfectly good rock and then attempting to glide to earth with a parachute. As someone who has always struggled to deal with his fear of heights, I simply do not understand what would make a person find such a sport to be a desirable thrill. But I have a friend who has long been attracted to rock climbing, so I don’t believe that such risky behavior necessarily involves madness.

When I hear about somebody performing such feats–climbing the great rocks of Yosemite, BASE jumping, or doing that crazy high-wire bit embedded above, I’m reminded of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.If you are the Son of God, he said, throw yourself down. For it is written:

He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

Jesus answered him, It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.

So was Dan Potter putting God to the test? I know that I won’t be taking up any of his extreme sports any time soon ever, but is that really the point? If we shake our heads at a man like this dying at something that he truly enjoyed, then are we just applying our likes and dislikes as if they were absolutes? I engage in risky behavior every day, riding my bike in traffic, driving my car in the rain, or eating Fettuccine Alfredo without my cardiologist on call.At what point does the acceptance of everyday danger morph into putting God to the test? (In popular memorythat Matthew 4 termwas translated “foolish test,” which, while not in the original is pretty reasonable.)

How do we assess risk, not being employed in the insurance industry? Should risk be avoided altogether? Jesus certainly did not tell his followers to “go into all the world if it’s safe,” as it certainly wasn’t safe. On the other hand, He didn’t say anything about BASE jumping or skydiving or tight-rope walking. He didn’t say anything about BMX biking, skateboarding, or snowboarding.

My life verse is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” While the things Jesus had just been mentioning were food and clothes, can’t we expect that safety and even enjoyment might fall into that category as well?

It is not for me to judge the heart of Dan Potter, to know whether he did the crazy things he did for the Kingdom of God or for the kingdom of himself. I can attempt, however, to judge my own motivations when I ride my bike in traffic, drive in the rain, or even eat that fettuccine. If my foolish actions are for my own benefit, then my sins differ from the ones Dan Potter may have committed only by being a good deal less dramatic.