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Too close to the edge

If they're the king's children, why look for daredevils?

Issue: "The Jonesboro puzzle," April 11, 1998

Every time I hear another collective gasp at how bad things have gotten in this pagan society, I'm reminded of the story of the cadre of coach drivers trying out for the job of carrying the king and queen's children up and down the narrow, winding road to and from the castle at the top of the mountain. With dozens of steep drop-offs, and no guard rails, it was a challenging assignment. "What I want to know," said the king's head liveryman to each candidate for the job, "is how close you can get to the edge without going over." The responses came in varying degrees of daring and braggadocio. One horseman claimed he could drive at nearly full speed for the length of the road, all the time staying no more than six inches from the edge. But the driver who got the job was the man who responded modestly: "If it's the king's children, sir, then I want to stay as far from the edge as I possibly can." Our society, however, driven on by our leaders and opinion shapers, is much more like the naive drivers. We have totally misunderstood the task. With a junior-high grin on our faces, we honestly thought the king was looking for someone who could stay right on the edge but never fall off. A couple of weeks ago in Jonesboro, Ark., we had to look again at our belief that we can toy with pretense about violence but never suffer real-life effects. We thought we could go right to the edge of the cliff with a steady diet of violence in movies, television, home videos, and video games-and never have 11- and 13-year-old boys pick up on the idea of getting violent themselves. We thought we could abort more than 35 million babies and still expect little boys to believe that we really treasure human life. Two decades ago, Francis Schaeffer and Everett Koop said in their movie Whatever Happened to the Human Race? that an America that accepted abortion would sooner or later also accept euthanasia. Many thought that was a stretch, that however bad we got on the one front, we certainly wouldn't go over the edge on the other. Now comes news that the state of Oregon has not only adopted euthanasia in theory, but is counting its first few actual cases. How many wheels of the coach have to be suspended over the gorge before we become believers? For a generation, the American people have been told that they can go right to the edge of immorality and promiscuity, but still stay on the high road. Now we're dismayed by polls claiming that those same people have no problem endorsing a president who may have gone a lot farther. I hope you've noticed, however, my use of the words we and our. For while it's easy to jump all over the rest of society for walking way too close to the edge of the cliff, the more critical issue may be where God's people themselves keep choosing to walk. Three examples leap to the forefront-examples relating to the Third, the Fourth, and the Seventh Commandments of God's list first given to Moses. All three represent issues where the behavior of Christian people has moved in the last generation much closer to the edge of the cliff. Most of us can remember when the public abuse of God's name in a profane way was simply not tolerated in public life. Today, Christians regularly pay $6 for movie tickets all but guaranteed to include such abuses. If we're cheapskates, we rent $2 videos full of the same profanity. Or we get it for free on the evening news. And all without protest. I also remember how Black's Department Store in Waterloo, Iowa, drew the curtains on its show windows every Sunday to reverence the Lord's Day. Shoppers in 1998 wouldn't have a clue what such an action symbolized. Christian-owned businesses that don't stay open on Sunday are themselves a rarity, as are Christian people who refuse to shop and eat out on the Lord's Day. And if sexual lust of the merely mental kind is on the six-inch line, riskily close to the cliff, the viewing and listening habits of most Christians have moved even closer to the edge. Instead of scrambling toward safety, we keep pharisaically tempting ourselves-and others-to explore how much more we can see without actually breaking God's law. In other words, we're the ones who have declared by our behavior that we can perch ourselves on the edge of peril and still survive. We're the ones who have said we can pick and choose among God's commands, pretending that some remain important while relegating others to minor status. We're the ones who have asserted we know how to play with fire without getting burnt. If those of us who proclaim a holy God frolic near the edge, what can we possibly say to unbelievers who do the same thing, but in their own way? And whose hands are most bloody when society finally dies?

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Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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