Last week was terrible for tragic deaths. Nineteen of the elite Granite Mountain Hotshots firefighting crew died defending 250 homes from a wildfire in Arizona. Just the day before in Nevada, a Circ de Soleil acrobat, Sarah Guyard-Guillot, fell to her death during a Las Vegas show, leaving two small children motherless. It was the first fatal accident in the troupe’s 29 year history.
This comes a week after Christian highwire artist Nik Wallenda crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, praising and petitioning the Lord all the way across as the Discovery Channel broadcast his every word and movement live. But is performing death-defying acrobatics a biblically legitimate calling? Is it a godly use of one’s natural talents or is it a reckless endangerment of one’s life, violating the Sixth Commandment?
Everything we do involves some level of risk: driving, taking a bath, crossing the street. But these are reasonable risks, not careless disregard for one’s life. Prudence knows the difference. Soldiers know the difference between risk and recklessness, and thus between bravery and folly. Good things need to get done in a fallen world, and some require real danger, like fighting fires and fighting wars to preserve lives and whole ways of life.
So we honor the Granite Mountain Hotshots as heroes, holding them up for imitation by those who survive them. They bravely risked their lives for public safety. But the acrobat risked her life for what? Our entertainment? Race car drivers and jockeys have also been known to die, but the risk of death is not inherent in the entertainment value of what they do, unlike acrobatics. People behold with wonder the defiance of death. It takes their breath away because of the chance that the performer might die. The more certain we are that everything will end well, the less thrilling it is for us. There is a degree of hypocrisy in people’s horror at the wing walker’s deadly fall from the sky when the reason they were watching it in the first place was their prurient and macabre interest in watching a neighbor’s possible death.
Thankfully, Mr. Wallenda survived his death-defying walk. He had a lot of experience in his craft and he had taken safety measures, such as a helicopter on standby in case he found himself hanging on to the cable. But he had a reason for praying, and at times he justly felt fear.
Was it a witness to his faith? Christian faith is trusting the promises of God (Romans 4:20-21), but God does not promise to sustain us when we defy death to entertain people. I saw a witness to the psychologically calming benefits of prayer, but not to the truth and power of the gospel.
We need heroes because we need protection in a fallen world, and we need brave people to stand up to Islamists, ungodly political correctness, neighborhood punks, and even our own government. Acrobats are talented people with strong character, but they surely have other ways of applying such talents. To discern a biblically legitimate vocation, one must ask: Does it advance the community and the Kingdom without sinning?