The Parable of the Hikers

Monday, May 23, 2011

A pair of hikers was walking along a mountain path when a faint "help" drifted up from down below. "Did you hear something?" one of the hikers asked. "No," said the other. So they kept walking.

Ten minutes later, another hiker passed by. He heard a cry for help and glanced over the side, where he saw a teenager sitting on a ledge, crying. The hiker stepped back from the edge before the girl could see him. He adjusted the rope he carried over his shoulder and looked at his watch. Late. So he kept walking.

Another hour passed before a middle-aged man came by, panting and wiping his brow. Hearing a moan, he dropped to his stomach and crept up to the edge of the cliff. When he saw the girl, he cupped his hands. "I'll get a rope and come back." Then he stood up and left.

After forty more minutes, a young woman came along and heard a whimper from below. She also dropped to her stomach and crept to the edge. "What happened?" she asked.

"I got too close and slid down here. Now I can't get back up."

"Does anyone know you're there?"

"Some old man said he was going for a rope, but that was a long time ago. I don't think he's coming back. And even if he does, what if the rope breaks while I'm trying to get back to the top?" The girl started crying again. "I feel so alone."

The woman studied the ledge and thought a moment. "I can't save you without help, but I can comfort you and keep you from feeling alone." Then she looked around until she saw the slide the teenager made on her way down. "There's room for two on that ledge, so I'll join you."

But as she slid down, the woman discovered she couldn't control her speed. She barreled into the girl and sent her into the ravine far below.

When the man returned with the rope and another helper, he crawled to the edge and looked down. Wrinkling his brow, he said, "I'm back, but I thought you were younger."

Tears streamed down the woman's cheeks. "The girl you saw is gone."

"I'm sorry." The man fed the rope over the edge. "At least we can get you out of there."

The woman shook her head. "I don't deserve it."

"None of us do. But since we're here, let's bring you back up."

* * * * *

What does compassion really mean? Is it sympathizing with others, or is it rescuing them from danger? I believe it is the second.

I grew up in the United Presbyterian Church, which eventually morphed into the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). That denomination recently amended its constitution to remove the prohibition against ordaining practicing homosexuals.

I'll be the first to admit that all Christians are fallible and none have a perfect understanding of the Bible. But passages like Romans 1:26-27 say that same-sex relations are a perversion of God's plans, and there are no exceptions noted. Who are we to add what isn't there?

Even so, I'm not aiming this post at Christians who sincerely believe that homosexual relations are not sinful. Instead, my intended audience is those Christians who have a nagging doubt but think that accepting a sinful lifestyle is a more caring response than rescuing people from it.

I want all sinners to feel welcome in my church. After all, I'm one of them. And if we banned sinners from the pulpit, there'd be no one there.

Still, my job as a Christian is to warn people about sin, not to make them comfortable with it. Removing prohibitions on ordaining practicing homosexuals says, "It's okay." And I'm convinced that it isn't.

Yes, my position may leave someone alone and uncomforted for a while, and she might not believe that I'll return with a rope or that the rope will hold when I do. I can't force anyone to believe that. But isn't it better for someone to live with temporary hopelessness followed by rescue than it is to make the hopelessness permanent? Especially when it could be the difference between life and death.

In Acts 26:18, Paul reports these words Jesus said during Paul's conversion: "I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." (ESV) It's a good description of our job, too.

That's why I'd rather be compassionate than sympathetic.

No comments:

Post a Comment