A motif of pirates in popular culture, “walking the plank” was a method of execution for rogue seafarers. The practice involved extending a wooden plank over the side of a ship and forcing the captive, often bound and blindfolded, to walk across the plank until stepping off the end and falling into the sea, presumably to his death. I have observed, the Christian life is often portrayed in a similar fashion – a kind of walking across a narrow board or balance beam. The Christian is one who walks this beam, hoping to make it to the end, regularly losing his balance, falling into sin, but always exhorted to get back on the beam and continue the walk.
It seems to me, quite a miserable way to live and I can speak from experience, because I lived it and I was miserable. Our flesh is weak and can never hold to any kind of moral line for long. Neither the taunts and condemnations shouted from behind, nor the alluring promise of a great treasure to be found somewhere ahead, can sustain me or even grant a brief moment of relief. Both only serve to raise my fear and anxiety regarding the entire pitiable endeavor.
Sadly, we are also repeatedly exhorted to keep our eyes on our fellow plank walkers lest their feet should slip, pointing out their missteps, and calling them back to the plank. Surely, if we all work together and help out each other, we can be much more successful in this treacherous walk. And what is success? Well, clearly we are told, the more steps we take in a row without falling and the further our progress across the plank when we die, the louder the praise and applause we will receive at the end.
They will preach to me what they call a “gospel” message, but it’s really nothing more than how Jesus’ death makes it possible for God to forgive me each time I tumble, but make no mistake, God is sorely disappointed in my failures. He had hoped I could walk it better. He has supplied everything I would need to maintain a perfect balance. The good news they offer is that God still forgives me, yet I dare not stay too long off the plank or I will face His wrath.
I am also taunted with a message of how, when I started out, God had every good intention to bless my life with success, happiness, good health, prosperity and the like, but each time I slip and fall, He changes His mind, withholding this good from me to teach me a lesson. However, I may be able to appease Him by always picking myself back up and getting back on the plank. After all, it would be unreasonable of Him to ask for anything more than that.
It is sad how so few people realize this is a death sentence. Jesus taught quite clearly that He did not come to save the plank walkers, those who consider their manner of walk to count toward their righteousness. He came to save the fallen, those who are sinners. The end of this plank does not rest upon the shores of heaven, it hangs out over a dark, swirling abyss and an angry sea. Satan has deluded us into thinking our feet can find footing on this plank but in fact, we have all stepped off the end already and are drowning at sea.
The Psalmist understood this when he wrote:
“He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters…”
“He brought me out into a broad place;Psalm 18: 16, 19
He rescued me, because He delighted in me.”
And again in Psalm 40 he writes:
“He drew me up from the pit of destruction,Psalm 40:2
out of the miry bog,
And set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.”
The Christian walk is one with a solid and secure footing. In Christ, God has set our feet upon solid ground and established our ways. It is a broad place, with no steep cliffs or sheer drop-offs in any direction. Christ’s own righteousness is ours and His reward is our sure inheritance. As Edward Mote wrote in his hymn:
“On Christ the solid rock I stand,Edward Mote – My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
All other ground is sinking sand.”