Riding the ups and downs of life’s roller coaster

by Leonard Lauriault

On separate occasions recently, I was talking with some friends who, independently of each other, made a comment about roller coasters and life (thanks, Judy and Mark). Those comments brought to mind the thoughts expressed in this article (where else would one’s thoughts come to but to their mind?). I’ve been to several theme parks in my life – they’re not my first choice for fun.

At any rate, roller coasters get started moving by an electric motor that pulls them to the top of the first hill. Once enough of the cars have cleared the top of that first hill, inertia takes over for much of the remaining ride. As a reminder, inertia means that an object in motion tends to remain in motion and an object at rest tends to remain at rest. In the absence of any external force, like friction and gravity, perpetual motion, or perpetual rest, is theoretically possible. Inertia carries the roller coaster over low hills and valleys until the friction between the wheels and the tracks and the gravity of going uphill, along with other forces, necessitates the use of external power again for the roller coaster to crest the next hill.

Natural forces, including inertia, also are what keep the roller coaster on its tracks and that’s all that keeps it on track, in addition to God. Have you ever looked closely at one of those things? Do you know that if the roller coaster doesn’t continue to move at the right speed through a spiral or loop-the-loop, it would either fall or fly off the tracks? Roller coasters truly are instruments of precision physics – thank God! (My apologies to those who want to merely ride the roller coasters in life with no thought of the implications.)

Anyway, in our Christian life, that external power source is the eternal God (I didn’t realize the similarity in spelling between ‘external’ and ‘eternal’ until I was working on this article). For the roller coaster to take advantage of the external force (the motor), it has to stay on its tracks. For us to benefit from God’s external power, we must stay on track with him. If we’re on track with God, we begin operating with an internal power source that helps us roll along smoothly over the hills and valleys of life (we’ll still face those). I like this: The external power of the eternal God gives us internal power for godly living (Ephesians 3: 20, 21; Philippians 2: 12, 13; Acts 2: 38, 39; Ephesians 1: 13, 14).

Friction between God and us really limits our ability to roll along the rough road of life. Our sin is a source of friction that often causes us to get off-track with God, mainly because of our guilt (Isaiah 59: 1-3; Psalm 38: 4; Hebrews 10: 1-4). We break God’s rules and we feel guilty, which causes us to try to hide from him (Genesis 2: 15-17; 3: 1-10). God doesn’t avoid us because of our sin; we begin avoiding him.

In fact, God wants reconciliation and if we avoid him because we’ve sinned, he may come looking for us (Luke 19: 10; 15: 3-7). At the very least, he will keep an ever-hopeful vigil on the horizon in case we come back (Luke 15: 17-24). All we need to do to cure that sin/guilt problem is remove the source of friction (Hebrews 10: 19-22; 1 Peter 3: 21; 1 John 1: 5-9; John 8: 10, 11).

Often after cresting any hill on a roller coaster, there’s a rapid downward spiral to the low places. Realizing that God helped us crest that last hill either through the forces of nature or by injecting his supernatural power will help us to traverse the low places and overcome the inertia to remain at rest there. Otherwise, we may wallow in despair and possibly come to think it’s time to just get off the roller coaster.

Sometimes, it may be best to get off, particularly if riding the roller coaster is associated with some sin. Generally, though, even if the roller coaster ride is associated with sin, before we get off the roller coaster in life, let’s give God a chance by getting ourselves back on track. His power is always available to help us get a new start and if we stay on track with him, when the roller coaster of this life stops for us at Gods’ timing and we get off, we’ll be in that position of perpetual rest (Matthew 11: 28; Revelation 14: 13; Hebrews 4: 9-11, 1).
Leonard Lauriault, church of Christ