The Extreme Life

extremelife_headerThe ultimate extreme is life abandoned to God

by Phil Wagler

The movie Blood Diamond is a fascinating study in what makes men tick. Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a Zimbabwean diamond smuggler who through cinematic fate finds his life tied to a West African fisherman named Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou).

Archer lost his parents tragically as a child and now lives the lonely and dangerous life of a mercenary who makes cheap diamonds a girl’s best friend. He lives for the adrenaline of the chase—the chase for elusive jewels, for money, for women, from enemies, and ultimately, the chase for purpose in his wounded and empty life.

Vandy, conversely, has almost nothing except his family. He is a husband and father in a poor African nation. When his family is torn apart in the brutal Sierra Leone civil war and he is enslaved in the mines, everything he does is aimed at reuniting his brood. They are his life. He is as driven as Archer, only his arrow is pointed in the opposite direction.

As Danny and Solomon embark on a final trek to find a valuable and hidden blood diamond it is for divergent reasons. Archer is looking to get rich to escape the life he knows. Solomon is looking to escape back to the life he knew. A telling conversation ensues in which Solomon asks Danny piercing questions of meaning and purpose. Does he have a wife? No. Does he have children? No.

Solomon literally stops in his tracks. It makes no sense to risk life and limb for no real purpose. Why this pointless extreme existence? “I’m confused,” he blurts.

“That makes two of us,” replies the despairing smuggler as he marches off in his perplexity to chase another shiny rock. His life is extreme in its blandness. The rush is a sedative. The karat glint distracts from a heart of stone, a vacuum of purpose, a life with adventure but no meaning.

What is so extreme about living solely for self? What’s so wild and adventurous about that when we do it all the time? That’s just normal. The Danny Archers and couch potatoes of this world are simply polar opposites of the same reality. The only difference is one goes down in a blaze of glory while the other goes down in a haze of corn chips. Don’t we know, if we’re really honest, that such extremes are not extreme at all?

At the end of Blood Diamond we pity the tragic Archer whose aim was so late on target, while Solomon’s simple, purposeful, selfless life is always extremely attractive. Which man got it right? Are these the only choices?

Hear the words of Jesus Christ, the Lord of history: “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

Any extreme life we might imagine is Saturday morning cartoons compared to what is possible with God. Jesus is responding to His confused disciples about who is in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus upends our normalcy, as extreme or honourable as it may be, and invites us into the potential of the Kingdom of God. You see, for Jesus there is a third way besides the way of Archer and even Vandy. Family is good, Solomon has purpose, but Jesus pushes to a new extreme vision for life: “I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

The extreme life is not focused on self, neither is it focused solely on those closest to us. It is life abandoned unto God. This is the third way, the supernatural life to which Jesus points. We are called to a grand yet single purpose, to leave the wilds, the banal and even the admirable for the impossible possibilities of life in the footsteps of Christ. This is the extreme life that confuses our natural tendencies, but it is what Jesus calls us to. Or, is He too extreme?

Phil Wagler is a husband, father, and pastor living in southern Ontario.

The article above was featured in the September 2009 issue of SEVEN magazine.