Goliath (the Roller Coaster) and the Fear of Death

At 38 I feel old. This is the age Chipper Jones started taking retirement seriously. It is the age when the zeal and passion of youthfulness truly wears off (for most of us). It is the age of crisis and aching joints.

So since 2006, every time I drove past Six Flags over Georgia (going to the airport or whatever), I’d say, “I’m never going to ride that!” pointing at the largest roller coaster I have ever seen, Goliath. And I meant it. I did not have any plans to ever ride.

I like roller coasters, and I’ve ridden plenty through the years, but none the size of Goliath. That first drop had me utterly intimidated. I had my mind set that it would never happen. I was absolutely not going to ride it no matter what.

This past weekend I went with my son and some friends to Six Flags and guess what? I rode Goliath.

But why?

Really, my riding Goliath was several years in the making. First, I had to see it with my own eyes. Then, I had to feel the intimidation of it and consider the way it would jar my body, the severity with which it would “get” my stomach, and the general fear involved in strapping in.

I had to metaphorically run from it, deny it, and pretend it wasn’t there. But then, the time came for me to ride. All day long, Goliath was staring at me. We rode Batman, Superman, Georgia Scorcher, Georgia Cyclone, Mindbender, and Scream Machine. Fun coasters all, but Goliath was watching me as I rode those lesser coasters. Goliath was mocking and laughing, for I had no fear of smaller monsters, but Goliath made me cower.

I spoke to him several times throughout the day. Mostly, I said, “I’m not riding you.” Or the more manly, “I might ride you, but I’m not going to be the one to initiate the ride. I’ll need to be persuaded.”

The first hill stands 200 feet in the air, and drops 170 feet at an alarming speed. Not to be outdone, the second hill drops even further.

All the other coasters around are like mini-coasters in comparison. The Cyclone’s highest point is 95 feet, the Scream Machine is 105 feet, the Superman is 106 feet, and the Mindbender is a short 80 feet.

But as the end of our Six Flags day drew near, a decision had to be made. A friend said, “I would hate that we drove all the way over here and did not ride it.” I finally accepted the inevitable and said, “Ok, lets go ride it.”

There was hardly any line, thankfully (the short line probably speaks well of the intelligence level of the general population). We just walked up and boarded quickly. I was grateful, because waiting in a long line just allows the fear to boil and bake. It is like waiting on a shot at the doctor’s office. Just come on in with the needle and get it over with!

Then it was time. Belts strapped, harasses lowered. Nervous shifting and laughter commences. The clicking started as we inched up the first hill, rising high above the earth.

Goliath and Death

Reflective people spend years and decades thinking about the final ride. Movies are made that help us remember death is coming (like The Green Mile) and that we are all waiting our turn in line.

We watch others die, attend their funerals, and remember their lives, always thinking, “One day, it will be me.”

The shadow of death hovers over people every day, every hour. It mocks us and laughs at us. It is our cruel enemy, the one who defeats our bodies and stops our hearts.

We comfort ourselves with words like, “It will be a long, long time before it happens to me. I don’t even have to think about it now.” Or “I’m sure I will go in my sleep and won’t even be aware.” A thousand others. Most often we just ignore it altogether. We pretend like it isn’t staring at us, reaching for us.

But one day, you and I will be strapped onto the train. The clicking will begin. We will pass the point-of-no-return and begin ascending the hill that drops into the abyss.

Severing the Giant’s Head

Well, I rode Goliath. It was crazy, fast, high, rough. I loved it. Yes, I paid money to Six Flags in exchange for them to take my body and toss it quickly through the air like a rag doll. Yes, I almost blacked out because I was breathing so deeply before we started, a last ditch effort to calm my nerves. Yes, it was scary.

But I loved it. I loved the ride, the victory, and the sense of accomplishment. Ever notice how it’s always easier to love a scary thing after its over?

When we got off, we offered one another high fives, and I noticed my throat hurt from screaming the whole time. We smiled and said, “I am so glad we actually rode it!” We laughed about it, Facebooked about it, maybe even bragged about it.

We had cut the head off the giant.

Nobody wants to die. Everyone knows it is a rough and scary ride. It might even make us scream. The fear of death controls so many people, confines us, chokes us, and stifles our joy. We see it staring at us, calling to us, reminding us that we must ride – one day.

But Jesus Christ came and changed things. Read this:

Hebrews 2:14-15 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Christ] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.

The finished work of Christ is the sword that cuts the head off Goliath. We still have to ride, but in Christ the fear of riding should be numbed to nothing.

Notice that Christ came to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

The roller coaster had me enslaved by fear until I rode it. I was frightened by it, worried by it. I ignored it, pretended it wasn’t there. I couldn’t even imagine actually riding.

But now I am no longer a slave to the fear of Goliath. I’ve ridden, and I might very well ride again. I’ve experienced the giant, and the giant didn’t win the battle!

In Christ we need not fear death. Yes, it is intimidating. Yes, it could be a rough ride. But Christ has assured us victory both through and after our deaths. We can wait in this dreaded line with smiles on our faces. We can even (God grant it) have a sense of excitement and anticipation; after all, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

We need not moan and frown as we wait our turn. We need not pretend we aren’t waiting. We trust the greater David who has slaughtered the giant. Death is dead.

2 Timothy 1:10 Our Savior Christ Jesus… abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…