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Monday, June 26, 2006

Guardrails

My mom showed me a newspaper article the other day. A 50-something woman from Michigan stepped over a guardrail in Yellowstone Park in order to take a picture. She lost her footing and plummeted 500 feet to a very messy death.To be brutally honest, my initial reaction was, "How stupid can you get? I bet she was also having her children (who were touring the park with their parents) pose next to the sweet buffaloes for pictures."

But then my mom and I started thinking about the absolute horror of being her husband or her children, and watching helplessly for what seemed like an eternity as your wife or mother fell (approx 15 seconds...try counting that out). The husband ran out into the street in order to flag down a car to call 911. And then a ranger had to rappel down in order to recover her body. And now they have to make arrangements to bring her body home, etc. A pretty nightmarish vacation, really.

And, to think about it further, she probably didn't think she was stepping into a danger zone when she stepped over that guard rail. After all, there might have been a few feet of fairly level ground ... and if it wasn't a total drop-off, the danger probably wasn't all that obvious. I can picture multiple places in Yellowstone where it could seem fairly safe to step over the retaining walls, just to get a slightly better photographic angle on that magnificent scenery...

Later that night, I was reading Randy Alcorn's book The Grace and Truth Paradox. He talked about guardrails -- God gives us commandments (truth) as a way of protecting us (grace). Nobody who is, say, driving down the Beartooth Highway and hits a guardrail will be cursing the guardrail for denting their car. They will be incredibly thankful that the guardrail saved their lives. And the guardrails are there for a reason, even when the danger of disobedience doesn't seem immediately obvious.

There's another Christian reference to guardrails that I've heard. Jim Petty talks about the "guardrails of God's providence." What he means is that when we are trying to discern God's Will for our lives, we can get pretty caught up in looking for signs and trying to figure out what the perfect decision will be. But all along, God, by his grace, is "hemming us in, both behind and before;" when we make decisions that are consistent with the wisdom that he gives us. It's sort of like playing bumper-bowling -- the ball is always on the path to knock some pins over, even if the path it takes is somewhat indirect. On a precipitous highway, you try not to veer all over the road, but the guardrails are sure nice if you happen to let the steering wheel wander, or if you lose control.

I'm sure that this Michigan woman didn't intend to become a "sermon illustration" on her vacation to our nation's first national park. I'm sure her family wishes that they had all been more concerned about staying within the guardrails set for them by park authorities. But, if this family knows the Lord, they have no greater comfort than knowing that this -- yes, even this accident -- is not outside the ever-more-secure guardrails of God's providence.

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