Roller coaster faith

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. —Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

storm_runnerThe engines of the MD-80 began to roar as the pilot released his brakes and started his take-off roll. I glanced to my left for a last look at the Mexico City terminal and noticed a man in the seat across the aisle making the sign of the cross. Around the cabin the ritual was being repeated by others, along with whispered prayers for safety.

At Cedar Point amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio, the world’s most extreme roller coaster has even veteran coaster riders doing double-takes. The Top Thrill Dragster climbs more than forty stories straight up, then spirals down at an incredible 120 mph, an experience so frightening that many riders are left babbling at the end of the trip.

Flying doesn’t frighten me, but I’m terrified of roller coasters. It isn’t rational—far more people die every year in airplane crashes. But statistics are not what I think of when I’m careening around a curve in a lurching roller coaster—no, it’s a mental image of the whole train ripping loose and plunging to the earth.

Somehow, beverages and peanuts at 450 miles per hour and six miles up seems safer, for no better reason than that I have faith in airplanes.

Every day, like it or not, we’re forced to exercise blind, unknowing faith. When we step into an elevator on the twenty-eighth floor, we put our lives in the hands of an unseen maintenance crew. Two years ago, I took a romantic stroll around the top of the Eiffel Tower. Gustave Eiffel completed the monument in 1889, and I have no way of knowing how diligently the French work to keep the thing from collapsing into a pile of rust and splattered tourists. Still, I went up and confidently enjoyed the view of Paris from on high.

When my doctor tells me, in Latin no less, that I have some dreaded condition requiring immediate action, I put my faith in her judgment, her experience, her diagnostic skills and the authenticity of the framed degrees hanging on her walls. But what do I really know for sure? Doctors routinely advise their patients to seek a second opinion, but few do. Instead, we exercise faith, putting our lives in the hands of people we hardly know.

Not a day goes by when we don’t hand over control of our safety and welfare to people we do not know and technologies we cannot understand. When we do this, we are taking a step of faith.

Why, then, is it so difficult for us to put our faith in God?

  • Why is it rational to drive confidently across the Golden Gate Bridge, trusting in those slender steel cables, but irrational to have faith in a God whose powers sustain the world?
  • Why is it rational to believe in quarks—sub-atomic particles too small to be seen—but irrational to have faith in an invisible God?
  • Why is it rational to gulp water from a faucet in the belief that it is safe to drink, but irrational to have faith in a God who promises good things to those he loves?

A skeptic may say that all of these things are ultimately subject to proof and testing, whereas God is not. But that begs the question of whether our actions constitute genuine faith. At any given moment, we cannot test or verify or prove that the people and things we trust will turn out to be trustworthy—yet, we trust them anyway. If it were not for faith, none of us would dare get out of bed in the morning!

What is faith? It is the confident assurance that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things we cannot yet see. God gave his approval to people in days of old because of their faith. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. —Hebrews 11:1-3, NLT

We cannot see God, but we can trust him. When we do, we live by faith. We cannot prove that God exists, nor can we prove that the claims of Jesus Christ are true. But when we live in the hope of his forgiveness and his presence, we live by faith, and God will not disappoint us.

We may be strangers to God, but we are no strangers to faith. As Dr. King said, “Take the first step.”

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