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Issue No.113
21 September 2017

Our greatest adventure: our greatest obedience

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Ashley Hardingham shows us how risk and adventure are part of the Christian faith

 

It was still early as we pushed our way up Oughtershaw onto the top of the highest road in Yorkshire. Pulling over, we peered down the long, straight ribbon of tarmac which fell down the steep hillside towards Hawes.

"Ready?" I asked.

Checking his front tyre, Tim just looked at me. Brothers need few words, especially as we were planning to go faster than we'd ever gone before. We circled back to get a run up and, mustering as much pedal power as we could, launched ourselves off the edge of Beggarmans Road. Quickly passing through our highest gears, we reached maximum cadence, so tucked in and called on gravity to take us faster.

Risk and adventure are inherently a part of the Christian faith. From the earliest persecutions by Emperors Nero, Decius and Domitian, opting to follow 'Jesus as Lord' was unlikely to lead to a quiet life. Devotion to Jesus threw into question every other loyaltyand this switching of loyalty could quite literally get you killed. In certain regions of the world it still does today. And more than that, what about all of those things which Jesus taught, which further served to define Christian faith over and against the safe option, the secure path, the status quo? Jesus tells his disciples to "take nothing for the journey" and to hate father and mother and wife (Luke 9:3; 14:26). As Bonhoeffer famously wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." That's some adventure!

Such teaching has become the inspiration for generations of Christian leaders, who have subsequently become heroes of the faith. What I most admire in these figures is that their repeated risky, faithful choices and the taking of Jesus at his word went unmitigated by questions, logic, or concern for self.

For most of us today, that risky adventurous faith will appear to fly in the face of contemporary society's claims to provide 'success.' That applies especially to personal ability and sufficiency or, more likely, in the amassing of resources. Jesus warns that "moth and rust destroy" and "thieves break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20), and for the rich young man, the adventure of faith must necessarily begin with him selling all he has and giving the money away (Matthew 19:16-22). So for every Christian, the route to security is counterintuitive. It's the roulette wheel where the player doesn't put all their chips on black or red, but on one single pocket - and its name is Jesus.

A word of caution. I get nervous when the inherent risk and adventure of the Christian faith get defined as simply being anything remarkable, spectacular or great. Greatness can be over-rated. That is because greatness is so often associated with achievement and success. We view sports teams, celebrities and political leaders as being 'great' and yet by definition this kind of greatness is achieved 'at the cost' of the rest of us. They are great, because so many of us are not. And who isn't just a little jaded and distrustful of the idea of greatness when a leader's goal is to 'Make America Great Again'? (In this respect Alpha's 'My Greatest Adventure' slogan, posed with a hunky Bear Grylls, has come in for a little well-deserved stick.)

Adventure and 'greatness' do go together, but not in the way by which we usually calibrate these things. Over Christmas I watched the three episodes of Sherlock and, out of several hours of viewing, the line which struck me most came from the lips of Dr Watson.

Challenging Sherlock over his somewhat surprising loss of confidence, Watson tells him, "Sherlock, you're better than a great man, you're a good man." And perhaps this takes us to the root of things. Our greatest adventures are in fact deeply entwined with our greatest obedience. Christ doesn't call us to the spectacular and news-worthy per se. He calls us to faithfulness, obedience, goodness, which may, or may not, look spectacular. By this benchmark, the adventure of the faithful marriage, the risk of generous giving and the feat of turning the other cheek become as demanding, challenging, selfdenying and spectacular as an ascent of Everest - or a descent of Beggarmans Road.

On the chilly morning of that ride, the total descent must have taken no more than three minutes. I'd always considered that things get a bit edgy over 50mph - a stone or stray sheep can spell disaster - but I was going so fast I didn't have time to watch the computer. Slowing to the low 40s, any fear had now turned to exhilaration and I let out a whelp of relief as my brother pulled alongside me. We freewheeled a little longer before checking our computers and comparing the results. They both read the same, 56mph. Darn, I wanted 60.

 

IMAGE Ashley Hardingham