One of my least favorite youth activities is the ropes course. If you're not familiar with this team-building tool, they're networks of obstacles, such as walls, planks, bridges, ladders and zip lines, that participants have to work together to climb over and under. While I know the principle of the activity is that solving physical problems with teamwork should allow the participants to apply the lessons learned to social problems, I am terribly afraid of heights and as soon as I don a harness and a helmet my stomach gets queasy, my hands get sweaty and I envision the kiddos falling.
Just last week I accompanied a group of middle-school students on a field trip where the grand finale was a ropes course actually built into the top story of the museum. Above the snack bar there were beams, webs and swinging nets that ascended several levels. Brett, a nice guy with a "staff" shirt and surfer hair, put us in harnesses and gave stern instructions: "Do not attempt to adjust or take off your harness. Only one person per obstacle. No rough play."
While I didn't relish the height, I knew if the kids followed the instructions, the harnesses would keep us safe. I would have felt differently if Brett had said, "OK, kids. In my opinion, these courses work best when you use a safety harness this way. But that's just what I think -- you're totally free to make up your own mind and if you get to the top of the course and want to try wearing your harness differently or even just going without it, who am I to tell you no or judge your way of doing a ropes course?"
When it came to the safety of our kids as they climbed up and down obstacles several stories high, there was no room for opinions. Gravity is real, and the floor is hard. No one felt that Brett was imposing his personal ideas about gravity on our group -- he was giving us the knowledge we needed to make it through in one piece.
Opinions have their place -- I like coffee more than tea and I like sandals more than sneakers. However, when it comes to matters of life and death, we should demand more than opinions.
Just like I wouldn't have allowed the kiddos to improvise strategies when using their safety harnesses on a high-ropes course, it would be irresponsible of me to present spirituality and the reality of death, judgment, heaven and hell as my personal opinion. I recently heard a colleague share, "I teach my students about faith with the same attentiveness that I'd teach them to pack their parachute before skydiving. Their faith is what will carry them safely to eternity." As scary as a high ropes course is for me, the thought of facing death unprepared sounds infinitely worse.
I believe that every created soul will spend eternity in either heaven or hell with as much conviction as I believe that gravity would have carried me to the ground if I had undone my safety harness and let go of the ladder on the high ropes course. Furthermore, I believe the knowledge that God loves me and wants a relationship with me is life-changing. Yet I sometimes feel timid when it comes to speaking up about eternal matters, succumbing to the notion that religion should be kept private, a secret to be discovered by those lucky enough to stumble upon it.
A parachute or safety harness is just a metaphor for the assurance that faith offers. But like anything that can save your life, when this assurance is found, it should be shared.