By Joel Bates
I nearly dropped a man to his death the other day. It would have been a close call except that he was harnessed to a rope and I was on belay. I was instructing a high, group initiative. The participant hung upside down from a suspended tire, and I stood beneath him, my hand on the brake. The other members of his group were responsible to hoist him to the upper platform 25’ off the ground. However, his large size and humorous, flailing antics—coupled with the fact that his two daughters were in the group—resulted in the team losing focus at a crucial juncture. I watched him struggling and noted the situation turning from comical to critical for him. Everyone was laughing except him and me. Perilously hanging upside down, his face redden as blood surged to his downcast head, and I remained on belay. When he could not hold on any longer, he suddenly came plummeting toward earth. His belay rope stretched, and I jolted upward, creating a colossal, mid-air collision that rattled my bones.
We found ourselves swinging about four feet off the ground. He hovered there in a prone position with arms outstretched like a limp corpse, held aloft only by that slender belay rope attached to his harness. He slowly lifted his head, cocked it in a sideways glance at me, and smiled a toothy grin. “You didn’t let me fall!” he giggled.
My body ached from the contact. My jaw was sore from colliding with his helmet. I had a scrape on my leg where one of his flailing limbs had strafed it. Looking down at my right hand, I saw a white-knuckle death grip on the rope that was connected to my braking device. Breathless and sober, I responded, “No, I didn’t let you fall.”
You see, two hours earlier, I had explained to the group how we take every precaution to ensure that they won’t fall to the ground during this activity. I had told them how much weight the equipment could hold, detailed how the braking system worked, and quizzed them on the climber’s contract, emphasizing the part where I say, “Belay is ON!”
At this point in the instructions, I had paused for an aside to explain how committed I would be in the role of belayer. The belayer controls the brake and descent of the climber if he falls or needs to descend. The belayer provides the last line of defense against a traumatic, high-angle tragedy occurring. It is true that some belayers get distracted. Some belayers get lazy. Some belayers get hurt or wounded and end up letting go of the rope. However, I promised them with all seriousness that I never would let go. “Even if some crazy gunman comes crashing out of the woods and shoots me, I won’t let go of this rope that is your lifeline!” I promised. And I meant it. In times past, I had proven my word when I was belaying a buddy who, while climbing 30’ above me, inadvertently kicked loose a golf-ball-size rock. Even after it hit me right in the forehead with star-struck force, I didn’t let go of the rope. Then there was the time I had been at the climb site, standing “on belay” for hours in the 100o degree heat as student after student climbed, but I didn’t let go of the rope.
A few days after our mid-air escapade, I was sitting with a friend at a Bible study, pondering social trends, the void of reason therein, and the spiritual impacts on our culture. I have heard about one famous Christian after another renouncing his or her faith. I’ve seen longtime brothers and sisters in Christ compromise their faith at the core. I’ve stood by as the tide of postmodernism and whatever comes after that has washed over our society and the church with its pervasive waves of pernicious lies, stealing away our truth. I recently even had a friend tell me he is a Christian, but he doesn’t really believe that the Bible is relevant anymore.
As I was expressing my consternation in our Bible study, I suddenly remembered myself standing in front of that group of participants the other day and telling them about the commitment I would make to them to stay “on belay.” I suddenly saw not a rope in my hand, but a Bible, and the question hit me like a meteor, “Will I be as committed to hold onto His WORD as I am to hold the belay rope?” Will I stand and grasp my Bible when there are all manner of distractions about me? Will I keep these Holy Scriptures before me even when the days grown long and dry and my strength of heart is failing? Will I hold this powerful Word of God in my hands when it hurts, when I’m injured for it, or when I’m under the gun of oppression? Yes, I will! I must for it is not only my life on the line, but the lives of those for whom I have committed to be on spiritual belay. I won’t drop it! I will stay “On Belay!”
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2Thessalonians 2:15 (ESV)
For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper that any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.