The world has a very definite narrative about what the ‘best life’ is, but is passionate living and thrill-seeking okay according to the Bible?
“It’s one thing to climb a nearly 500-foot high frozen waterfall in Canada or jump off a cliff in Moab – it’s something completely different to capture a beautiful picture of people doing these things,” wrote Jakob Schiller for Wired.
“That’s the whole idea behind the creation of Red Bull’s Illume photo contest. Held every three years, the contest honors the photographers who are constantly putting themselves in harm’s way to get breathtaking action sports photographs from the globe’s most remote and underwear-soiling spots.”
“‘A lot of the photographers are going to just as extreme lengths as the athletes,’ says Tarquin Cooper, a spokesperson for Red Bull Illume. ‘They’re putting themselves in positions where you’re like, “How can you even think about taking a picture?”’
“To take some of this year’s photos, the photographers had to do things like dodge falling ice daggers or get washing machined by giant waves and dragged across coral reefs; things most of us would never put up with, much less have the patience and expertise to deal with while trying to make snappies.”
Many of these photos are truly spectacular.
They capture the human body pushed to the brink, straining with every fiber of muscle against elements that could dash us to pieces in the blink of an eye.
What draws us to that edge between okay and out-of-control? Perhaps we’re not the sort to go cliff diving, but we seek thrills in other areas, serial dating, driving fast, traveling to exotic locales, attending healing services at charismatic churches. Nothing is intrinsically wrong with these things, but our reasons for choosing them can easily go astray.
The American Dream’s Honeymoon
It’s all good and well to talk about a waning honeymoon phase as the logical and even healthy progression in life, but most of us will fight tooth and nail to maintain it as long as we possibly can.
Moreover, if we feel like we’ve lost that zest for someone or something, we may be tempted to do whatever we need to in order to regain the glow.
Tony Reinke, senior writer for Desiring God, interviewed Kyle Strobel about seeking joy and enjoyment, noting, “Whatever causes joylessness in the Christian life, it’s a condition fraught with danger. Strobel summarizes the problem in a sentence: Western Christians often wrongly equate an experience of God’s presence with the experience of excitement. In our search for joy in God we go looking for a more exciting church, a more exciting Bible study, a more exciting group of friends, a more exciting worship album. We hunt for moments of excitement, assuming the more we feed on these excitements the more we are enjoying true joy in God.”
The Bible takes a very different approach to how we acquire joy.
“In the words of Jesus: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,’ and, ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:3, 5).
“We cannot minimize these words, Strobel cautioned. ‘I think one of the most difficult aspects of being an American Christian is trusting that Jesus is right and that our culture is selling us something that ultimately isn’t a valid way to be joyful — and is actually the very thing that destroys joy. And our temptation will be to create another kind of religion, a syncretistic religion of Christianity where we try to merge some of Jesus’s sayings about the abundant life with the American dream.’…
“‘We talk a lot about the prosperity gospel as a financial one, but I also think there is something called the spiritual prosperity gospel of “excitement.”’”
A good church or pastor always makes believers feel ‘on fire for God’ after the service. A passage of the Bible is only useful if it makes us feel peace and delight when we read it. Prayer only really does anything if you feel the Holy Spirit’s presence palpably. God is only any good if you can feel him… Really?
When Dying is the Aim
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis examines Christian romantic relationships and notes a common human mentality toward growth, novelty and maturity. “[T]hrills come at the beginning and do not last. The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go to live there.
“Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest.
“What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction…. This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live until it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do.
“Let the thrill go — let it die away — go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow — and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time. But if you decide to make thrills your regular diet and try to prolong them artificially, they will all get weaker and weaker, and fewer and fewer, and you will be a bored, disillusioned old man for the rest of your life.”
Allowing our delights to go through their natural decaying process is hard to accept, particularly if they’re something we’ve dreamed about for a long time.
This may very well be part of what is included in “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21, ESV). Michael Horton, professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary, put it very simply. “In terms of biblical Christianity, Christianity is about dying.”
Paul warned Christians that much of following God would go against the grain and seem counterintuitive to the world. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
It may not make sense, but if God says it’s what’s best, then he’s right.
The Quiet Sense of Presence
The most logical next question would be “Is it wrong, then, to be delighted or become emotional in prayer, to long for the intensity of God’s presence in a service or while reading the Bible?”
No, not if King David psalms, Elijiah’s cries to God, Jeremiah’s records, Paul’s fervent letters or Jesus’ Garden of Gethsemane prayers are anything to go by.
On this subject, David Wilkerson wrote, “Jesus rejoiced over us before the world was made. He anticipated coming to dwell in us and making us his habitation, and he rejoiced that we would cling to him, forsaking all others. We would seek him daily and spend quality time with him. He would share his secrets with us, and we would unburden our hearts to him. We would delight in his ways, searching his Word for revelations of his righteousness, and we would tremble at the revelations his Word gave us.
“The Bible states clearly that Jesus expected us to be his habitation. So, are you fulfilling his expectation? He anticipated spending a lifetime with you so is your intimacy with him increasing? Or, do you neglect him for days on end?...
“Here is a solemn warning: Jesus will not abide in those who neglect and ignore him. You may object, ‘But I love my Lord. I haven’t given him the cold shoulder.’ The fact is, if you have neglected prayer and his Word for weeks at a time—if you have no private, intimate relationship with him—then you have made your statement. You have declared, ‘My actions prove I don’t have a passionate love for Jesus. My family, career and personal desires come first.’”
The build to true passion is often slow and time-consuming. The flutters of first love should be eventually replaced with tender dedication. A relationship with God may have thrilling moments where God clearly answers prayer or miraculously provides, but it will, at its healthiest, be mostly comprised of steady discipline and a quiet but keener sense of his presence.
“Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man” (Proverbs 3:3-4).