November 9, 2011

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:13, 14

I’m struck by the string of tragedies in the national parks that have made national news this past year:

A grizzly bear killed a man hiking with his wife in Yellowstone, the first death from a bear there in 25 years.

–In Yosemite, three people plunged over Vernal Fall  after they crossed a guardrail and wandered too close to the precipice. A woman descending Half Dome slipped during a thunderstorm and fell to her death. Overall, there have 17 fatalities at the park, 6 of them water-related.

A man fell 300 feet down into the caldera that makes up Oregon’s Crater Lake after he went beyond a park barrier at an overlook and slid partway down toward the lake.

A woman was swept over Niagara Falls after straddling a railing and losing her balance.

Disasters come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes we bring trouble on ourselves by disregarding safety precautions, not using common sense or simply by making a mistake. For example, here are the opening paragraphs of this article on Yahoo News, entitled “Half Dome Survivors Wished They Had Taken Heed:”

Armando Castillo knew he should not attempt the last treacherous stretch up Half Dome with storm clouds looming. But he felt he had come too far not to accomplish his goal.

So up the side of the slick, granite monolith he went, 400 vertical feet at nearly a 40 percent grade.

 “About three-quarters of the way up it started hailing,” he said. “There’s a bunch of people and everybody just stops. Some women started crying because it was slippery and pretty scary. Then it cleared up.”

While others turned back, Castillo pushed on up the park’s iconic feature, making him one of Yosemite National Park’s worst nightmares— the increasing number of wilderness neophytes who mistakenly think the government is obligated to save them.

“People are pushing their luck, trying to beat the weather, and their backup plan is to call for a rescue,” said Mark Marschall, project manager for the Half Dome interim permit program. “They’re not understanding what that means. We can’t fly in that kind of weather. They’re on their own.”

 Those hikers were fortunate—they all eventually made it down okay. Nevertheless, they put themselves at risk by ignoring the warnings from the weather and posted signs.

But sometimes problems happen…just because. One minute we’re walking along, minding our own business, and trouble suddenly comes upon us, like the grizzly, which was defending her young. (There are signs noting that bears are in that area of Yosemite, although attacks are rare. Hikers are advised to make noise, travel in groups and carry bear spray, highly effective in warding off attacks.). Or circumstances beyond our control sweep us off our feet, like the rock climber, who was using cables installed to guide people along that particular steep stretch when the storm came up.

Ironically, Timothy Egan, writing in The New York Times, believes that the more national park rangers try to caution visitors about hazardous conditions, the more careless people seem to become. But there’s only so much the rangers can do, he concludes:

There will always be steep cliffs, deep water, and ornery unpredictable animals in that messy part of the national habitat not crossed by climate-controlled malls and processed-food emporiums. If people expect a grizzly bear to be benign, or think a glacier is just another variant of a theme park slide, it’s not the fault of the government when something goes fatally wrong..[I]t’s impossible to safety-proof a national park.

 Life, like nature, is risky and uncertain. In this current economic climate, we’ve seen government bailouts, both here and abroad. The news carries a seemingly endless string of turmoil, wars and other dire reports.

And perhaps your life is in turmoil, not only financially but emotionally, physically and spiritually. Maybe you’ve lost your job or you’re sick, and you feel lost and confused, and you’re finding that government, friends, family and even your own determination to pull yourself up by the bootstraps haven’t shielded you from disaster.

That’s because, ultimately, they never will. When it comes down to it, just like those hikers stuck on Half Dome, we’re all on our own. Certainly there’s a place for government help, and everyone needs the support of loved ones in times of crisis. But steep cliffs, deep water, and ornery unpredictable animals (and people!) will always be a messy part of life, and no organization, person or positive attitude can fully safety-proof us from them.

Now, you might think I’m about to say that God will. Nope. One thing I love about Scripture is that it’s real and down to earth. The Bible doesn’t sugar coat the way things are. “In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus bluntly says in John 16:33. Romans 8:35-36 lists some of the possibilities—hardship, persecution, lack of life’s necessities, danger, war.

Ah, but then comes the good part:

But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)

If God are for us, who can be against us?…In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us…Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 37-39)

No temptation [trial] has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not let you be tempted [tested] beyond what you are able to bear, but with the temptation [trial] will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

God Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I every forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

No, we can’t necessarily expect rescue from life’s problems this side of heaven, but right now and for all our tomorrows, if we have put our trust in God, we can expect Him to supply us the power to bear whatever comes down the trail.

P.S. You can get into the national parks for free this coming weekend, November 11-13, in honor of Veterans Day!


  1. Joanne says:

    Thanks for the encouraging words! Yes, life can throw us curve balls, but God is there always with us through the ups and downs of life.
    “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” I Peter 5:7
    “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” Psalm 55:22

  2. Elise Daly Parker says:

    bear whatever comes down the trail.
    Now did you mean that pun? Great post…I especially love the promise of God being for us. If the creator of the universe is for us, well then we’re going to be okay no matter what. He’s in charge and ultimately He wins!

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