by Adam Watkins
Once while traveling for business in Phoenix, AZ, I had an extra day before I flew out at 8 p.m. I felt drawn north, to the Grand Canyon. I rented a car, drove three hours to the canyon, paid the entry fee, saw the canyon, took a few photos, drove back, and barely made my return flight. I spent six hours driving and a couple hundred bucks for a few minutes looking at a hole in the ground.
Nearly ten years later I set out to see the canyon again but took an entire day of my trip to do it. Spontaneously I decided to hike to the bottom of the canyon and back, all in one day. I got up at 3 a.m. and drove about 45 minutes to the south rim. I forgot a couple things: First, the rim of the canyon is over 7,500 feet above sea level and in February was bitterly cold with three feet of snow on the ground. Second, the hike to the bottom was fourteen miles of trail and two miles of vertical change. This kind of hike takes a tiny bit of preparation. Nevertheless, armed with my camera, some gatorade, and–I kid you not–one packet of beef jerky and five rolls of Mentos, I set out to hike to the bottom and back. It is not a difficult walk for the prepared hiker, but crazy hard for the idiot who decides the night before to traverse the canyon, taking only a little gatorade and jerky, and Mentos, that unsung energy food. Near the end I was so exhausted I thought I was going to die, but I loved every minute of it.
Again, all for a dirty hole in the ground.
My fellow adventurers, hikers and campers have no problem with these stories. To them it makes sense to see this stuff, to hike it at the last minute, and to enjoy what skeptics would call merely a very deep trench dug by a nasty brown river.
I thought about these stories as I read Tom Oord’s book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. As he attempted to define randomness and chance, he described a religious institution that has, for the most part, denied that randomness and chance can exist alongside the idea of God. Someone must actually be in control of everything at all times if we are to believe that someone is in control of everything at all times.
Tom’s book is so welcome for people like me who have issues with established theology. He makes sense of questions most people would call faithless for even asking. It is vindication to have some of the deepest and darkest doubts you’ve ever had reinforced in this way.
Many of Tom’s arguments are triggers for me – topics that have brought about pain or trouble in my life. Years ago I learned how to deal with those triggers the hard way. I developed the ability to be self-intuitive and find the source of my strong reactions. I eventually managed to avoid the bad effects those reactions had on my relationships. The key for me was walking into the depths of my wounds and completing that healing process by climbing back out and viewing the scars as a source of wisdom and beauty in my life.
To deny randomness at the fundamental level–to gloss over science and even our rough understanding of nature–is like refusing to address those wounds. Instead we build bridges over them and ignore them. This means we miss the lessons which come from examining them closely by exploring all the way to the bottom and venturing back out again. We’d rather build a bridge than face the shadows we’d find in the depths or the effort of descending and climbing back out again.
Bridges are unstable. A mighty river is constantly pulling at the footings with torrents of fear, pain, and uncertainty. These emotions have disastrous effects on faith. They don’t fit well within a theology of a God who controls everything yet is supposed to be the very definition of love. Many Christians reinforce their bridges with statements like, “Have more faith,” “Let go and let God,” or, “God is in control.” Time and again when disaster strikes, I have seen these mantras fall apart. The words have no power to describe a hellish descent, a sickening crash into the bottom, and a torturous climb out.
Henri Nouwen said, “But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.” For me this quote is about more than loneliness. It is about a canyon full of science, doubt, questions, and pain that become rushing waters to wear away at the faith of my childhood.
Thankfully I’ve learned to see the bottom of the canyon without hitting it. I have taken the hike down there without being forced to do so. I have accepted the pull to visit again and again and understand that those shadows aren’t meant to be feared. Overcoming those fears, pains and uncertainties are the foundation from which I was built.
So yeah, Tom’s book can vindicate many of my gripes over the years, but the real reason I can read it the way I do now is because I no longer fear to travel down the canyons that it asks me to explore. Though I might lose a superficial sense of control, I gain a deeper and deeper knowledge of the only thing that matters in this life. No matter what I can or cannot comprehend about this world, God loves me.
Adam Watkins is a web developer, hiker, and aspiring photographer from Boise, ID. He has an undergrad and MBA from Northwest Nazarene University.