In 1974 a Frenchman called Philippe Petit, with the help of a few friends, got into the South Tower of the recently built World Trade Centre in New York City. The got to the roof and put a metal wire between the two buildings, secured the wire, and then Petit himself set foot on the wire, and for 40 minutes walked between the two Twin Towers. During the course of his walk he lay down on the wire, did little pirouette jumps, looked down and sat down on the wire.
All at 1,368 ft. (417 metres) up.
Without a safety net.
In 2008 a documentary, ‘Man on a Wire’ was made about the feat, with interviews with Petit and his crew as well as his girlfriend at the time, combined with footage of the event itself and the planning and aftermath. Here’s a quick look at the trailer:
Amazing isn’t it? It’s an excellent documentary, which won several awards, including the Bafta for Outstanding British Film. Recommended viewing for all I would say.
I’m always blown away by the sheer achievement of it. One false move remember, one accident or slip up, and Petit was dead. He even says during the film, when he first stepped on the wire ‘Death was very close’.
Petit had extensive experience of these kind of walks and had prepared for six years in advance, to be ready.
He knew all he could know about what he had set himself to do. He had practiced and practiced, and was as ready as he could be.
But still, the first step onto the wire, at that height, with that level of risk – still, there were nerves.
Still he had to trust that all the preparation would work out. He had to trust the conditions, that there wouldn’t be unexpected distractions or big gusts of wind.
He still had to do the walk. And the walk wasn’t easy. It was a balancing act, and no margin for error. But it was what he felt he had to do, he was compelled – almost called – to do it. When asked afterwards why he’d done what he’d done, he simply said ‘There is no why’.
There are lots of challenges and metaphors we can take from this story. But the one I want to focus on, is the balancing act of walking this life with God.
In the Bible we constantly see that faith is full of paradoxes, that a life following Jesus is a life lived in the balance, on a tightrope – with a safety net underneath, that sometimes we can see and sometimes we can’t.
Sometimes God allows us to see the net, but sometimes He wants us to take steps of faith without seeing the safety net – in order to grow & mature, in order to learn how to trust Him and know Him more deeply.
But the net is always there. Whether we know it or not.
Now what do I mean about contrasts in scripture? Well let’s take a quick look. First we have the images of God – as almighty, powerful, to be feared, as a lion – but in contrast we have humility, infinite love, grace & mercy, a God who tells us to fear not.
Jesus tells us to be as wise as serpents, and as gentle as doves. Jesus heals, He forgives those who kill Him, and He is a seeker of peace, yet He also shows righteous anger at injustice – trashing the temple. He tells Peter He is the rock on which the church will be built, but then not long after essentially calls Him Satan.
I find that as someone who is trying to follow Jesus one of the biggest conflicts and balances I have in my own life is trying to balance being humble & servant-hearted, but also being confident.
You’ll have your own area where you struggle – and often its with things which aren’t sins in themselves, but which, when abused, can turn into sin. In areas where we have to set boundaries.
All of us will have an area – probably more than one – where we are trying to balance out two seemingly conflicting or opposing types of behaviour or attitude.
Examples of some issues or conflicts we might face be between justice and peace – how do you deal with oppressive regimes in the world and bring justice in a particular area, without crossing the boundary of non-violence? Is violence justified in response to any kind of injustice, suffering or oppression, in order to pursue just aims?
How far is too far with a partner when you aren’t married, what crosses the boundaries?
How do we fear God in the right sense whilst also knowing He’s a God of infinite love and grace? How do we find the balance between a just, powerful, almighty but ‘tyrannical God’ who is distant and to be feared and the ‘buddy God’ who’s our best friend – both of which are misinterpretations of true qualities of God?
How do we balance generosity with taking care of ourselves and our family?
There’s even the question of Bible worship. How do we follow the commands of the Bible and take them seriously, whilst also ensuring that we don’t become legalistic, religious, Pharisee-like Christians?
These are just some of the areas that immediately come to my mind when thinking about this, areas we might struggle with – indeed, during our lives I suspect all people who follow Jesus will struggle with some or even all of them at one time or another, possibly more than once. I suspect there’s a blog series or even a book which could be written about all these questions and how we deal with them – but that’s for the future.
When it comes to this balancing act and my life, what I tend to do – and something I think happens to a lot of us, in whatever area we struggle in – is occasionally go to one extreme in one or the other. For example, in the area of humility and confidence (a particular struggle of mine) either being over-confident or cocky and forgetting about God when things go well, or getting too down on myself, too negative, when I’m trying to be humble and honest with myself and God.
The question is how to we have a relationship with a God of so many paradoxes? Not only that, but which one of these is our God? What is our God like? Where is the balance?
Who is this God, and how do we know Him?
For a long time I thought there was some final answer about God. That there was a level of maturity as a follower of Jesus that you reached and then you’d got it. You were there. You get a certain point and then you know all that there is to know about God, you’re an expert, a mature Christian, you figure it all out, you’ve got it.
But that place, in reality, doesn’t exist.
The reality is that we don’t know everything about God, and we never will.
And factual knowledge about God isn’t the same as knowing God, and it can’t be a substitute for real authentic relationship with Him.
Life is a journey. And life is about Jesus, about God. It comes through Him and from Him and is tied to Him. Our journeys are journeys with God, the whole way. We’re walking this journey our entire lives, every day we can and should be trying to discover more about who God is, every day hungering to know Him more than the previous day, and inviting Him to know us.
It’s a tightrope we’re walking. Our whole lives with God are lives on a tightrope, with a safety net there the entire time. God is there with us the whole time, walking this tightrope with us – and we can be reassured that it’s one that Jesus Himself has walked before to perfection – and without the safety net we have. In the trailer Phillipe Petit himself sums it up:
“Life is a tightrope”
Sometimes on our walk we know He’s there, so we can see a net underneath us. It’s safe, it’s comforting and reassuring – it’s exactly what we need at times, especially at times of suffering and uncertainty. Sometimes God is willing to give reassurance He’s there to take a step forward, because that’s what we need at that time.
But other times we can’t see the net, it gets hidden from us – but we still feel the call to take the next step, and we’re asked to trust that the net is still there, and taking these steps in those circumstances allows us to grow.
You see when it comes to God we want certainty, we want a God we can control and agree with, even if we say we don’t need to understand Him fully. We want certainty, we want to know the final answer.
But it doesn’t work that way. There is no absolute final answer when it comes to faith in God – and in that sense, we can never see the safety net. If we are looking for a final answer as our safety net, we’re simply becoming Pharisees, thinking our religion can save us.
In that instance Jesus isn’t our God, our religion is, or at the very least, our perception of God is our God – and they are two different things.
At times we fall off the tightrope. Through sin, or through circumstances of life, we fall off, whether we can see the net or not. Unexpected interventions, bad decisions, they cause us to fall off, and we get hurt. But it’s in those times we fall off we have no other choice but to go to God, and in those times we often find that we, through no choice of our own, and despite horrible circumstances, can find honest intimacy with God.
If and when we do fall off, then we land on the net, we get scars – these are the lessons we learn – and Jesus helps us climb back on. The cross provided the framework to allow us to fall down, and get up again. It opens the door for healing, restoration, forgiveness, and right relationship with God.
You see God doesn’t want us to figure out a final answer, He wants us to wrestle with the questions of life, to ask the important questions, to step out in faith, to grow and learn, and we’re not always going to get it right.
But even if we do get it wrong, in our eyes, we will still have learned something, we’ll still have grown, and God will still use it. In that sense there are no wrong answers, because whatever we decide, whatever path we choose, God will use it to transform and grow us. That doesn’t mean we just do what we want, Jesus talks about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and we should be seeking out what it really means to live like Jesus and trying to put that into practice.
But the point isn’t the right answer.
The point is in the wrestling.
This is the violence of Christianity, the wrestling with God in and through our circumstances, trying to find and live out the way of Jesus. It’s no wonder Jesus likens finding the Kingdom of God to a treasure in a field that we would sell everything we have to buy, or a pearl of such value that we’d sell everything to have it. It’s so precious that it’s worth the search and worth the wrestling, and demands it.
Jesus wants us to keep wrestling with these questions and trying to live out the answers, and He has the grace and love to cope with them all.
In my experience, the more we know God, the more we realise how little we know Him and the more we realise how much we need Him.
We need to stop thinking it’s all about being right – staying on the tightrope, and try to remember that it’s all a journey, a process, and part of that – as fallen people – is falling off and getting up again, and learning and growing through that. Never taking God’s grace & mercy for granted, but embracing the freedom that is ours through the cross.
We do this knowing that whatever path we choose, whatever decision we make, at the end of the day God is for us, with us, on our side and wanting to know us and be known more by us, and that it’s a process which never ends.
Our security needs to be in Christ Himself, rather than being right in our interpretation of what He said. Our salvation must rest on the death and resurrection of Christ through grace alone, not on being right or believing the right things.
If want to grow, if we want to follow Him and become more like Him, He will show us where we go wrong, help us deal with our sin. It’s all part of the lifetime process of transformation into the people He designed us to be, and there’s no point trying to be right all the time, because we never will, and we shouldn’t make an idol out of it.
It’s about walking the tightrope, and trusting in God for each step and that even if we do fall off, He will catch us and set us on the right path, and we will learn through each of those times how to balance better.
Maybe, by the time we go to meet Him, we might all have learned to balance a bit better on the walk of life with God, without falling off as much – with scars that remind us of our journey, with lessons learned, and closer to God than we were before.
Hopefully by then we will know Him a little better – and understand more that we can never fully know or understand God, but that at the same time it doesn’t stop us following Him or building relationship with Him.
Finally, in our journeys with God, we’ll not only have discovered more of who God is, but more of what it means to follow Him, and ultimately, who He intended us to be – and hopefully we’ll be more of a reflection of that than we were at the beginning of the journey – with the scars to show for it, but always remembering the scars Jesus bore to save us, and that it’s only Him, not our religion or knowing all the answers, that has saved us. And maybe we’ll have realised the truth, that in reality, Phillipe Petit was totally right.
All life is a tightrope. Death is always close.
But we maybe will have also realised that it’s a tightrope that we can walk with safety, even without the certainty – and on this tightrope of life, that God isn’t so interested in the destination, but it’s the journey that’s important. God wants us to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, to die to ourselves to a new life in Christ, to be the people we were made to be – and the only way to do that is the tightrope of faith.
What issues are you trying to balance within your own faith and walk with Jesus?
Does your salvation come from your religion, from yourself, from knowing the answers, or from Jesus alone by grace?
Do you make an idol out of knowing all the answers about God?
Are you willing to wrestle with God?
Will you dare to trust God enough to let Him catch you if you fall off the tightrope of faith?
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