restoring our biblical and constitutional foundations


The Blessing of Wiping Out

 David Alan Black 

Big wave riding has lots of adventure, and not a few surprises, associated with it. You arrive at Ehukai Beach Park on Oahu’s North Shore before sunrise in anticipation. You can’t see them, but the waves are there, sounding like freight trains roaring through your living room. You can’t wait to renew the test of skill and endurance the day will bring.

The first challenge is just paddling out over and through 10-foot cascades of white water from waves already spent. You wait for an offset, hoping to avoid the inevitable see-saw of the “three steps forward, two steps back” effect. You finally make it outside and set up for the right wave.

If you take any risks at all, you will inevitably wipe out and lose your board—the waves are simply too big to use a leash connecting your leg to the board. You have no idea whether your board has gone ashore or has been swept out to sea by the riptide, but for the moment that question is irrelevant as your first priority is to survive the effects of being tumbled in the washing-machine turbulence of the wave you were just riding. You barely have enough time to surface and catch a quick breath before being tumulted again by the next wave for what seems an eternity (though lasting only for 3o seconds or so).

When there is finally a lull in the sets, you swim for shore, hoping to find your board there—and hoping it is still in one piece. You sit on the beach exhausted and debate whether you have enough energy to go back out. You end up calling it a day (you had two or three good rides anyway), putting your board on the surf rack, and driving home with a renewed sense of respect for the ocean—as well as a renewed sense of your own lack of invincibility.

In short, you leave humbled.

The apostle Paul once said, “For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound; everywhere and in all things, I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer” (Philippians 4:11-12). Humility, says Paul, must be learned. It comes to us when we have achieved some success, a place of prominence, a plateau of privilege, when we are exalted and extolled—we might say, when we are “riding high.”

If we are not careful, we can easily lose that humility of heart that marked us when we were poor in spirit. The real test of genuine Christianity comes, not when we are down and out, but when we are prosperous and self-sufficient. It is then that God allows us—for our sakes—to experience a “wipe out” in life lest, like King Uzziah of old, “our heart is lifted up to destruction” (2 Chronicles 26:16). When prominence makes us haughty and prosperity makes us merciless toward others, adversity will enable us to deepen our dependence on Him and increase our love for others.

Wiping out is the best preparation for a life of utter contrition of heart. It enables us to serve and love our God more effectively, whether in prosperity or in poverty, in prominence or in obscurity, in pleasure or in pain.

April 8, 2003

David Alan Black is the editor of

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