“You’re looking good, Nik, whether you feel that way or not,” Nik Wallenda’s father, Terry Troffer, told him. “Take your time, it’s all about you right now.”
While traversing the Little Colorado River Gorge on a tightrope, Nik Wallenda constantly uttered prayers to Jesus: “Thank you Jesus for this beautiful view… I command it with the authority of God in Jesus name… praise you Jesus, thank you Jesus.” Later on, his prayers were more desperate: “Lord help this cable calm down… Lord help me to relax.” Before starting the tightrope walk, Wallenda and his family prayed with Joel Osteen, the pastor of our nation’s largest church. Clearly it was important to Wallenda to publicly praise Jesus as he performed his death-defying feat. Consequently, a number of Christians and Christian publications have taken to highlighting him as an example of “what it means to walk by faith.”
Last year, Wallenda traversed Niagara Falls on a tightrope but that paled in comparison to yesterday’s stunt. Unlike his Niagara feat, Wallenda crossed the gorge without a harness. The Discovery Channel broadcast the event live with a 10-second delay “just in case.” Wallenda’s great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, fell and died while doing a performance in Puerto Rico.
What Nik did took incredible focus, courage, and determination. I do not doubt that he was trusting Jesus with all his heart as he struggled to maintain focus while 30 mph winds whipped across his face and the cable began to wobble so much that on two occasions he was forced to crouch and wait for the winds to calm. That said, I do not think Nik’s stunt was wise or Godly.
Nik has a wife and three children and he said in an interview before the stunt, “If I thought there was even a small chance of losing my life… I wouldn’t be doing it.” Nik said this because he has had a lifetime of training in a family of tightrope walkers that goes back seven generations and 200 years. This tells us something not all that different from what Nik’s father told him through a radio while on the walk: “[I]t’s all about you right now.”
Walking on a tightrope across a massive gorge with no harness is a selfish act. A fall from such a height would almost certainly mean death. We wouldn’t be talking excitedly about his Christian testimony if we had seen footage of his wife and children weeping at his death instead of embracing him as he hopped off the wire.
At the core of Christianity is a God who came to Earth “not to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And He calls us to do the same. We are to “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than [ourselves]” (Philippians 2:3). So I just can’t get excited about all the praise that Nik Wallenda threw Jesus’ way when the feat he was attempting could have very easily meant leaving his wife without a husband and three children without a father. Had Wallenda fallen, no Christians would be excitedly talking about his faith. Instead, we be mourning, unable to shake the images of a such tragic waste of life.
I would join the many Christians who are thankful for Wallenda’s testimony had he simply worn a harness. As it stands, I couldn’t bring myself to praise a fellow Christian for doing something unwise — something that garnered him a tremendous amount of praise from men but did little to bless and build up those closest to him.