The small village of Brienz, with fewer than 200 inhabitants, is picturesquely situated on the sunny slopes of the Albula Valley in the canton of Graubünden in Switzerland. The village settlement with its beautiful townscape and surrounding mountain landscape has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. A piece of paradise on the southern edge of the Plessur Alps. On June 15 of this year, the inhabitants of the village narrowly escaped a catastrophe. Shortly after 11 p.m., 1.2 million cubic meters of rock slid down a mountainside, accompanied by large rockfalls and a huge thunderclap, directly towards the small village. The whole event lasted a good 10 minutes, and the masses of rock came to a halt just a few meters from the edge of the village. Nobody was hurt, and only an access road was buried under the rubble. Lucky, right? Not quite, because even if the entire village had been buried by the debris, not a single resident, nor even a farm animal or pet would have been injured or killed, because from June 9 to 12 the entire village was completely evacuated – under supervision – and after 6 p.m. on June 12, no one was allowed to enter the village for an indefinite period of time.
People had been aware of the danger for years, but it wasn’t until 2019 that a landslide occurred on the mountain, causing a boulder weighing around 100 tons to hurtle down into the valley at almost 100 km/h. At the bottom of the valley, it rolled past a children’s playground and came to rest on a meadow. Once again, we were warned, and so the movements on the mountain were closely monitored, measuring systems were set up to raise the alarm in good time, and evacuation plans were drawn up. Not surprisingly, experts spoke of this as being the best-monitored mountain in Switzerland. And it is quite right to say: danger recognized, danger averted! It had little to do with luck.
Now, our position as children of God, isn’t that – in a figurative sense – also a type of paradise? A person who is at peace with God and his neighbor, who knows that his sins are forgiven, who has a goal in mind and is constantly heading towards it. What a wonderful life! Is it any wonder that Isaiah wrote a song of thanksgiving for the redeemed?
“And in that day you will say: “O LORD, I will praise You; though You were angry with me, Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For YAH, the LORD, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’ Therefore with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And in that day you will say: ‘Praise the LORD, call upon His name; declare His deeds among the peoples, make mention that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done excellent things; this is known in all the earth. Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion, For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!'” (Isaiah 12)
So much for the theory, right? Correct. And the practice can and should look the same. It’s not about an exalted, fanatical Christianity, or about hovering five meters above the earth’s surface as saints and thus avoiding all dangers. Rather, it is about being aware of the danger surrounding us as children of God, as saints, and facing it – with Christ as Lord.
When Isaiah says “Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid”, he is making it very clear that there are things in our lives that make us afraid and can make it difficult for us to trust. We need to be aware of this real danger. Peter once put it very succinctly: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
A big mistake we can make is to take this danger lightly. This could have the same effect on our life of faith as a rolling 100-ton boulder on a children’s playground.
Another mistake, however, is to give this surrounding danger our full attention. You see, the people of Brienz lived a fairly normal life until June 9. Even though the danger was real, they were not driven by the fear of what could happen. They had something that gave them security, something they trusted. And Isaiah expresses it like this: “God is my salvation, I will trust”. What a perspective! What an outlook! A person who does not remain rooted to the spot in the face of danger, but instead looks to the Lord and knows, “the Lord God is my strength!” This statement becomes all the more significant when we consider the time in which Isaiah wrote these words. For him it meant, in a figurative sense: danger recognized, danger averted.
And what about us? How can we benefit from this? Well, basically in the same way as Isaiah. But what does this mean in practical terms?
We are constantly faced with challenges and dangers in our life of faith. The individual articles in this issue give us a small sample of things that can threaten us. It is not the same for everyone and not with the same intensity. But sometimes this means that we have to go through difficult times, that we are challenged in our faith, that we feel alone and abandoned. We sometimes realize that we are not succeeding in things, and there is perhaps a danger of giving up. And these, dear reader, are the moments when you need to remind yourself: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). A wonderful Bible verse, isn’t it? It wasn’t just theory for Paul, it was practice, because have you ever noticed what is written in the verses before it? Paul says there that he learned (!) to be content in every situation in life. He could be poor and he could have abundance. He was acquainted with everything, being full and going hungry, having plenty and suffering lack. Remarkable, isn’t it? But that is by no means all. He writes to the Corinthians: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9 NLT). Paul experiences these difficult times. – How does it feel to not know what to do? – But he is not focused on the problem, but on the Lord, on the all-surpassing power of God. Remarkable, isn’t it? But that’s not all. Paul describes another situation to the Corinthians that is very challenging for him. He speaks of a “thorn in the flesh”, and most Bible commentators interpret this to mean that the apostle was suffering physically and wanted to be freed from it. He repeatedly prayed to God about this and received the answer we are generally familiar with: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
For Paul, all this was not just theory. Did you notice that he had to learn to accept it all, learn to deal with the individual situations properly? It didn’t just fall into his lap. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t succeed straight away. I recently read a remarkable statement: Be faithful. It’s always too soon to quit!
Therefore “… let us also, because we have such a cloud of witnesses around us, lay aside every weight, and the sin which always surrounds us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith …” (Hebrews 12:1-2a). Then it will also be said for us: danger recognized, danger averted.