Bulletproof

As a race car driver, we have a different mindset. We honestly believe down to our core that “it can’t happen to me.” We believe “it might happen to the other guy but not me.” …

Wheldon-crashWe believe our destiny is in our own hands. We are supremely confident when it comes to that. To a certain point, a driver feels bulletproof because he or she is in control. — former NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, on “Why We Race”

Men are risk-takers. We pretty much always believe we have things under control, even when life is coming apart at the seams. We may make a few half-hearted noises about calculated risk, but the truth is, most of us were never very good at math. We tell ourselves that bad things happen to other people, not us, and when we finally get smacked in the face by something everyone else saw coming a mile away, we are taken completely by surprise.

I blame it on testosterone, which conveniently absolves me of responsibility when things go wrong.

Men deal with life’s risks by adopting a certain grandiosity or machismo that grows out of a long succession of what is basically just good luck, luck that creates the illusion of being in control of events that are often far more dicey than we realize.

A typical example of this mentality can be found in the blow-out of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite multiple opportunities to acknowledge signs that the well had become very unstable, the crew convinced itself that the anomalies it was seeing were just another flavor of normal. They were convinced they could handle anything the well would throw at them. It took gas and mud blowing violently into the sky before they finally realized they had taken one too many risks, and by then it was too late.

On Sunday afternoon, Briton Dan Wheldon, one of IndyCar’s rising stars and two-time winner of the historic Indianapolis 500, was killed in a horrible 15-car crash at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Wheldon was 33 and left his wife, Susie, and two young sons.

I have loved the Indy 500 since I was young boy. Indy-style cars are the fastest in competitive racing, their huge engines, open cockpits, sleek aerodynamics and exposed wheels designed for high speeds and crushing acceleration.

You often hear it said that people only watch auto racing to see the crashes, but that’s never true of the fans. What draws us to auto racing generally, and IndyCar racing in particular, is the love of extreme speed, demonstrations of remarkable human skill, and the amazing engineering that holds these cars together mile after punishing mile. Auto racing is about that uniquely human desire to push to the very edge of what is possible, and then find a way to extend just a little bit farther.

But with high speed comes serious danger. When wheels touch, cars lose control. Bump one of these cars in the wrong way and it will go airborne. Wheldon was well back from the chain-reaction accident when it began, but his car was moving too fast into a chaotic pileup to slow down, and when another car careened across his path Weldon’s number 77 went airborne, colliding at high speed with the perimeter fencing and disintegrating in a violent explosion of flame and metal.

Several drivers called it the worst accident they have witnessed in their racing careers.

A few drivers had expressed concerns before the race. The Las Vegas track is short and confined for cars of this speed and the field of qualifying cars was the largest of the season, creating lots of congestion. The accident occurred early on, when the field was still bunched up and many of the drivers were aggressively jockeying for better positions.

Though men are infamous for risk-taking, we all have to accept a certain unknown level of risk in our lives. Each time we open the front door and step out into the world with confidence and courage, we are making a decision to live with risk. In a world where a bad cantaloupe can be deadly, we probably couldn’t function without a certain level of denial about the dangers around us.

Like Darrell Waltrip, most of us go through life believing our destiny is in our own hands. We begin to think we’re bulletproof, until we discover that we really are just flesh and blood.

Here’s the problem. We’re quick to trust ourselves, often far beyond what is sensible. We put blind faith in a cadre of technological systems and gurus whose credentials and track records we never examine. We’ll even trust the kid at LubeWorld, the one who looks like he hasn’t started shaving yet, to replace the brakes on the family sedan if he’ll give us a good discount.

But when it comes to trusting God, we want proof, certainty, guarantees. We want to know exactly what we’re in for and what it’s going to cost us. We have a million doubts and a list of non-negotiable conditions. When it comes to trusting God, we’re like lawyers at a divorce settlement, poring over pages of documents to be sure every t is crossed and every i dotted.

There is a famous passage in the Book of Proverbs that is on point:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the LORD and turn away from evil. — Proverbs 3:5-7, NLT

Don’t be so impressed with your own wisdom; put your trust in God. That’s blunt.

In other words, I am not in control, and things don’t turn out all that well when I try to be. Despite appearances, the universe is not a crap shoot. It matters greatly who and what I put my trust in, and if I’m honest with myself, I’ll have to admit that I’m not as bulletproof as I like to think.

God is good, and because God is good, he is also trustworthy. He doesn’t want to leave us floundering around in the dark. “Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take,” says the writer of Proverbs. God is engaged. God is listening and watching. He even has a few suggestions, if only we would take time to listen.

Life is full of unseen hazards, and even more that I seem blithely determined to ignore. I am far more self-assured than I have any right to be, and I have a disturbing tendency to get swept out to sea before I’m even aware that I’m in a rip tide.

Where have you put your trust, and how is that working out for you?

Photo credit: ABC News

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Comments

  1. Dale Barkley says:

    Thanks, Charlie. I’m listening to the audio book of Donald Rumsfeld’s “Known and Unknown” – and your essay brings to mind his famous (and often lampooned) quote about “things we don’t know that we don’t know.” In his own words, having “intellectual humility” when it comes to what we claim to know for sure, is an important part of being honest – and, I might add, in being vulnerable (and not bulletproof) before the All-Knowing One.

  2. Alice Paschal says:

    Excellent, Charlie, just excellent.

  3. It was one of the Greek philosophers who said “The knowledge of one’s Ignorance is the beginning of Wisdom,” or words to that effect. So is Fear (Awe) of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7. I like Ray Steven’s (“The Streak”) lighter take on it all: “The less you know the more you think the more you know; the more you know the less you think the more you know!” Proverbs 4:7

  4. And people think that Christians are naive and gullible!

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