The Bible’s Viewpoint

“Extreme Sports”—Should You Take the Risk?

“THESE DAYS MORE AND MORE OF US HAVE LEFT THE OBSERVER’S SEAT TO DO OUR OWN LEAPING OUT OF PLANES, RAPPELLING DOWN MOUNTAINS, KAYAKING OVER WATERFALLS AND DIVING WITH SHARKS.”—THE WILLOW GLEN RESIDENT NEWSPAPER.

THIS comment describes a growing trend in sports. The significant rise in the popularity of such activities as skydiving, ice climbing, paragliding, and BASE jumping * reflects a world enamored with taking risks. Snowboards, mountain bikes, skateboards, and in-line skates are also used to push personal limits by challenging the steepest mountains, the highest cliffs, and the longest jumps. As Time magazine states, the rising popularity of “extreme sports”—sports in which participants take great personal risks—highlights the eagerness of millions to participate on “the metaphorical edge, where danger, skill and fear combine to give weekend warriors and professional athletes alike a sense of pushing out personal boundaries.”

However, this increase in popularity also brings with it a high personal cost. More and more people get injured when relatively safe sports are taken to an extreme. In the United States during 1997, emergency-room visits for skateboarding-related injuries increased by more than 33 percent, for snowboarding 31 percent, and for mountain climbing 20 percent. For other sports, the results are even more dramatic, as is evident in the growing number of deaths related to extreme sports. Proponents of these sports are aware of the dangers. One woman who participates in extreme skiing states: “I constantly have death in the back of my mind.” A professional snowboarder sums it up by saying that if “you don’t get hurt, then you’re not trying hard enough.”

In view of these facts, how should a Christian regard participation in such activities? How can the Bible assist us in deciding whether we should engage in extreme sports? A consideration  of how God feels about the sanctity of life will help to answer these questions.

God’s View of Life

The Bible tells us that Jehovah is “the source of life.” (Psalm 36:9) Beyond creating mankind, he also took great care in giving us what we need to enjoy life. (Psalm 139:14; Acts 14:16, 17; 17:24-28) It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that he expects us to care for what he has so kindly given us. Laws and principles given to the nation of Israel help us appreciate that fact.

The Mosaic Law required that an individual take steps to protect the lives of others. If this was not done and a life was lost, the one who could have prevented the tragedy would be considered bloodguilty. For example, a homeowner was commanded to build a low wall or railing, called a parapet, around the flat roof of his new house. Otherwise, bloodguilt would come upon the house if someone fell to his death from the roof. (Deuteronomy 22:8) If a bull unexpectedly gored a person to death, the owner of the bull would not be held responsible. On the other hand, if the bull was known to be dangerous and the owner had been warned but did not keep the bull properly guarded, then if the bull gored someone, the owner of the bull would be considered bloodguilty and could be put to death. (Exodus 21:28, 29) Since life is precious to Jehovah, his Law reflected a high regard for the preservation and protection of life.

Faithful servants of God understood that these principles extended to taking personal risks as well. In one Bible account, David expressed his desire to be able to “have a drink of the water from the cistern of Bethlehem.” Bethlehem was under Philistine control at the time. On hearing David’s request, three of his soldiers forced their way into the camp of the Philistines, drew out water from the cistern of Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. How did David react? He would not drink the water but, rather, poured it out on the ground. He said: “It is unthinkable on my part, as regards my God, to do this! Is it the blood of these men that I should drink at the risk of their souls? For it was at the risk of their souls that they brought it.” (1 Chronicles 11:17-19) To David it was unthinkable to risk a life for his personal satisfaction.

Jesus reacted in a similar manner when, likely in a vision, the Devil tempted him to throw himself off the battlement of the temple to see if the angels would protect him from injury. Jesus responded: “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.” (Matthew 4:5-7) Yes, both David and Jesus recognized that it was wrong in God’s eyes to take unnecessary risks that could endanger human life.

With these examples in mind, we may wonder, ‘Where do we draw the line as to what is an extreme or dangerous sport? Since even a common form of recreation, not dangerous in itself, can be pushed to extreme limits, how can we determine how far we should go?’

Is It Worth the Risk?

An honest appraisal of any activity we might be contemplating will help us determine the answer. For example, we might ask ourselves, ‘What is the accident rate for this sport? Do I have the training or protective equipment needed to prevent injuries? What are the consequences if I fall or misjudge a jump or if my safety equipment fails? Would it be a minor mishap, or is there a probability of serious injury or death?’

Taking unnecessary risks in the name of recreation can affect a true Christian’s precious relationship with Jehovah as well as his eligibility for special privileges in the congregation. (1 Timothy 3:2, 8-10; 4:12; Titus 2:6-8) Clearly, even when engaging in recreational activities, Christians do well to consider the Creator’s view of the sacredness of life.

[Footnote]

^ par. 4 BASE stands for building, antenna, span, and earth. This sport of parachuting from fixed objects such as buildings, bridges, and cliffs is considered so dangerous that it is banned by the National Park Service in the United States.