I grew up idolizing the daredevil Evel Knievel in the 1970’s. Not only did I watch every televised event, but I had my own Evel Kneivel action figure (and bike) so I could re-create the amazing stunts over and over again. As I got older, I grew out of my hero-worship, realizing that this man was just a crazy pagan who enjoyed showing the world how he could “dare the devil” and defy death. Listening to his interviews, I learned from his own words that he was really a sad, foolish little man. So, much to my mother’s relief, I decided to become a counselor and children’s ministry director instead of a stuntman.
Now enter Nik Wallenda, the Christian daredevil. I have to say, that’s a little harder for me to get my head around. It makes sense to me when people do extreme stunts to be worshiped as well as to thumb their noses at God. But walking a wire above Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon as a Christian who feels called by God to this line of work? Interesting. So is this man who comes from a long line of tightrope walkers someone who is fearless, faith-filled, or just foolish?
Christianity Today describes Wallenda’s walk across the Grand Canyon a “walk of faith.” It was certainly refreshing to hear this daredevil say “thank you Jesus” dozens of times, and even call out to God for strength and endurance. As he walked, he also praised God for the marvelous creation he could witness from such incredible heights. So maybe it would be okay for a new generation of Christian children to look up to Nik Wallenda like I revered Evel Knievel.
Yet we need to deal with some of what Nik Wallenda says about his life as a high-wire acrobat. In his Christianity Today interview he says: “My faith plays a huge role in my life, and I am very blessed to be where I am. One of the questions I always get is, “Are you testing your faith / are you testing God?” I don’t see it like that at all. I don’t believe God keeps me on the wire.” Building on that thought, Wallenda continues: “I believe God gives me a unique ability to walk the wire, but it’s up to me whether I train properly. There’s a lot of people that have amazing relationships with Christ that lose their lives in a car accident. Does that mean they didn’t have a good enough relationship with Jesus? No. Life happens and God created us all in his image, but we’re all our own people. We’re not robots. We make decisions.”
While it’s true that human beings are responsible for their own decisions in this life, it is unfortunate that Wallenda doesn’t realize that it IS God who keeps him on that wire. God’s Word teaches us that God is sovereign and in control of all things AND we are responsible for our own choices and actions. It’s not one or the other, it is both-and. God does give us abilities to do what he has called us to do, but he never leaves it up to us alone to run our own lives. As Christians we are not just “our own people”–we are “in Christ” and firmly in the grip of God’s mighty hand. And, thankfully, the Sovereign of the universe is even in control of the “car accident” too!
Wallenda confirmed some of these same beliefs in his interview after the amazing Grand Canyon stunt. To paraphrase, he said that “”all of life is dangerous” and when he walks on the wire he is in total control “except for Mother Nature.” He also said that his confidence rested in his ability to grab the wire and hold on tight if something would go wrong. To me, that indicates that his faith may be more in his own skills and abilities than in the LORD. And, if he thinks he’s control of everything on these walks except what “Mother Nature” controls (I assume he means God) than he really isn’t in control at all!
I am thankful that Nik Wallenda is a Christian and gives testimony to that fact. While I question some of his theological understanding, I certainly don’t doubt his love for the LORD! Public events like this just give us an opportunity to examine our own faith, who God is and who we are–and to teach our children Biblical truth. While I tend to think stunts like this are foolish and unnecessarily test God, they are also pictures of the grace of God for human beings. We are ALL humans on a wire, walking to our deaths unless God, by His grace, gets us to the other side.