Beauty and Danger

Some of the most beautiful creatures are also among the most dangerous. Consider the sheer elegance of the big cats, sheer bulk of an elephant, or the toxicity of jewel-coloured tree-frogs. The speed with which this cheetah moved from dozing to alertness was impressive. Lunch was on the way and it would be unwise to get in the cheetah’s way!

Beauty conceals threats. Even the most lovely landscapes contain insects or reptiles that can hurt or kill. It isn’t a safe world. Domesticated animals are not entirely safe either. Come between a cow and calf and you will see how quickly a placid slow-moover can turn testy.

The most dangerous creature is humankind. We are the most inventive, most creative, exploitative, most co-operative & competitive tool-using killers ever. Humans can be casually cruel- and maliciously vicious.

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Unsurprisingly the Bible contains praise for the beauty: and wisdom for the trials. One repeated theme is the promise of God’s protective justice. In particular the Psalms have songs that deal with perils, persecutions and promises. Psalm 121 is only short but it makes a great prayer when the dangers overwhelm the beauties.

If your world is not safe right now, there is only one sensible action. Reach out and trust God; commit your path to Him and look for His protection.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Text & photograph Copyright (c) 2018  Richard Starling. Bible verses from New Living Translation (2nd Ed.)

Solitude

There are two kinds of solitude in the Bible. The good kind, where a person seeks God and in solitude discovers that the Lord Almighty is willing to engage with a sincere searcher.

Then the other solitude- the loneliness of exile, judgment and despair.

Owls feature only a few times in the Old Testament, and usually as a representation of the second kind of solitude. (This owl was in captivity… appropriately!)

zeph 2 v14 owl

The little-known message of Zephaniah is a message of judgment and encouragement with three major reminders:

  • 1) God is sovereign over all nations.
  • 2) The wicked will be punished and the righteous will be vindicated.
  • 3) God blesses those who repent and trust in Him.

It seems that solitude is an inevitable part of life. Either we willingly seek out God, or we risk being “quarantined” and watching all our accomplishments be overrun by the wild.

Listening to world news and international politicians is worrying. It may be an over-simplification, but society has discarded its faith-roots and fallen into a moral decay. This is not unique to our time. Human nature throughout history has been a rollercoaster of civilisation and collapse. Our ultimate and only hope is that the Sovereign Lord God will deliver us; Christ “ushered in” the Kingdom of God and we wait and work for its promise to reach fulfilment.

What should we do?  Pray with sincere hearts for our world and its leaders.

Secondly: decide personally whether we wish to choose solitude to discover God- or suffer the solitude of banishment. That could be considered the “naughty step” where we go to think about our conduct and attitude in the hope we might be forgiven and rescued.

Owls tend to be quite solitary creatures. They say owls are wise. What would they say privately in the ear of Presidents, Prime Ministers, and public servants?

Read Zephaniah in full- it is only short- and take in the promise of justice alongside the hope of mercy.

Blue Ice, Red Canoe

Courage- knowing the risks, and taking action anyway.

Visiting Glacier Bay is breath-taking.  Huge rivers of frozen time slide majestically to the sea and the ice displays the strata where debris has been compacted year after year. Noise from the constant stressing and shattering of the ice reverberates in the still air. Regular “calving” of icebergs from tiny to house-sized attract the wonder of onlookers.

Some get closer than others.

Red Canoe Blue Ice 219Glcr Bay July16editThis bold adventurer in a bold scarlet kayak glided through freezing ice-mush and milky water, getting an incredible view- and taking a considered risk. Too close, too bold, and tons of ice could crush the fragile craft.

As the ice rears above, the fissures reveal the deep clear blues of highly pressured, frozen snow that fell perhaps 200 years ago.

The canoeist experienced Glacier Bay in a far deeper way, and was certainly less warm and far less comfortable! I envy that experience.

I like to think that, if given the opportunity, I’d ship out on a kayak and experience this myself.

There’s a little joke about this… A canoeist wanted to go kayaking in Glacier Bay: but decided the chill factor was too extreme for comfort. So he installed a paraffin heater to keep the kayak warmer. Sadly, the paraffin leaked and the kayak caught fire… which goes to prove that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

I really should apologise for that! Christianity is sometimes accused of being dull, humourless, and a soft option for people without the guts to face up to life. I disagree. To follow Christ takes courage. Believers can be criticised, ignored, laughed at, or even attacked. Living the way of Christ requires self-sacrifice, obedience, humility and a radically different set of values and purpose. We should stand out from the crowd.

Jesus sends us into a world that is beautiful and damaged, wonderful and terrifying. “Go into all the world… tell them…” Follow the Way of the Cross… love your neighbour, your enemy, even yourself. It is a challenge worthy of our best response and determination.

Jesus also said we would not be alone on the journey… He will be with us. Up for it? It will take courage, even with such a Friend. Courage is knowing the risks, and taking action anyway. Go on, be bold today!

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Of course it’s safe… he’s sleeping

“Is that wise?” followed by “Are you sure it’s safe?” mark interesting conversations between people who take very different views on risk.

This tiger was safely penned in at London Zoo.  He seemed perfectly relaxed and fast asleep; regular deep breathing with a hint of a snore-like rumble. His paws don’t seem quite so relaxed though… those look distinctly like claws to me. A little part of me would have loved to stroke that handsome head, run my fingers through that thick fur- to experience a tiger like an oversized kitten. Every now and then news breaks of someone who foolishly enters animal enclosures- bad endings. The zoo helpfully had signs up pointing out that the tigers viewed the spectators as food- just meat on feet.

dare to fly.jpgDanger has an appeal. Risk is enticing- the thrill of successfully negotiating the hazards and getting an adrenaline rush. It’s why the big cats are so popular, it’s why theme parks have terrifying rides, it’s why white-water rafting sells tickets.

It’s why maniacs like this bloke paraglide from mountains in Austria! The thrill is a huge reward.

We’re equipped with mental and physiological tools for assessing risk: and for weighing up the balance of fright to euphoria. My brain says “Do NOT jump off mountains- EVER.” But a little bit of me would love to know what it would feel like.

After the Resurrection of Jesus, lots of people were assessing risks. The authorities hoped Jesus was still dead. The disciples were being challenged by His re-appearance. Risks require response and (ideally) reward.

If Peter and John and the others saw only the risks, it would be madness to follow Christ. Unless, of course, HE really WAS alive. In that event, the rewards outweighed the risks… One of the best proofs of the truth of the Resurrection is the changed character of the disciples. Even at risk of death (several were martyred) they believed that Jesus had changed everything. Therefore Jesus was worth every risk. They changed the world.

Today, we seem to want to turn Jesus into a sleeping tiger instead of a roaring lion. If He sleeps, he is safe to approach, safe to follow. (Actually if Jesus sleeps, in other words stayed dead, it would be safe to follow Him- but pointless.)

Living, glorified, triumphant: this Jesus is not tame, nor dull, nor powerless. A living Christ who has won the victory over death and who brings the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth, this Jesus is worth every risk, every obedience, every decision to love.

Easter may be finished in the shops. It never finishes wherever there is one person, one church, one community, willing to take the risk of saying YES to Jesus.

Do you settle for a tame, safe tiger? Or get all your thrills in theme parks, wild sports, cheap relationships, horror movies, computer games, addictions and selfishness.

Get a life! Make a difference. Look for the Risen Jesus, and take a risk on Him.