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How to survive a free-falling elevator

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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A screen grab from Business Insider video entitled 'How to make it out of a free-falling elevator alive' illustrating the proper technique to survive a free fall in an elevator (Credit: Business Insider)

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{/source}Our ministry is located on the 10th floor of an office building in north Dallas.  I ride an elevator to and from our office at least twice daily and often more.  This equates to some 500 elevator rides a year.  Every now and then, the car I’m riding will shudder slightly, leaving me to wonder: what would I do if the cable broke?

If you ride an elevator often, you’ve probably wondered the same thing.  If so, you may be interested in a video going around the Internet, “How to make it out of a free-falling elevator alive.” According to the video, there are nearly a million elevators in the U.S., each serving 20,000 people a year.  Elevators kill 27 of them every year on average.  Does this fact trouble you?

Before you choose the stairs or escalator, consider these facts: most fatal elevator injuries are caused by door malfunctions that cause people to get stuck or fall into empty shafts, not broken cables and free-falling elevator cars.  In fact, there’s only been one recorded incident of such an accident.  In 1945, a B-25 bomber crashed into the north side of the Empire State Building in a heavy fog.  The impact weakened an elevator cable, which later snapped with the elevator attendant inside.  Betty Lou Oliver actually survived the 75-story plunge because the cable coiled at the bottom of the shaft and softened the fall.

Compared with stairs and escalators, elevators are remarkably safe.  As noted, they cause 27 deaths per year, but that’s out of 18 billion passenger trips.  In other words, people die on elevators .00000015% of the time.  You are 60 times more likely to die on the stairs, and 50 times more likely to be injured on an escalator.

Nonetheless, if you’re like me, you still want to know how to survive a free-falling elevator.  Researchers at MIT have a recommendation.  Do not bend your knees and brace for impact—this will expose you to extreme gravitational force.  Instead, lay flat on the floor in the center of the car.  This will evenly distribute both your body weight and the car’s impact.  

MIT’s advice is not the only counter-intuitive wisdom we need to survive the perils of this fallen world.  Here’s a statement by Jesus I need to remember daily: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Luke 9:23-24).  To “take up his cross” did not mean to wear jewelry, or even to bear up under a difficult challenge.  In Jesus’ day the cross meant only one thing—tortured execution.  Today he might substitute, “put a lethal injection needle in his arm daily.”  To be a true disciple of Jesus means nothing less than daily willingness to die for him.

Why would we pay such a price?  Consider the question which follows his invitation: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (v. 25).  Jesus is the only one who can give our lives true and eternal meaning.  He is the only Way, Truth, and Life (John 14:6).  He alone is omniscient, omnipotent, and all-loving.  He always and only wants the very best for us.

The next time you ride on an elevator, the cable will probably not break.  But whether you survive your ride or not, there is no guarantee that you will finish the day.  One day will be your last—either because you die or Jesus returns.  You’re one day closer to that day than ever before.  The only secure way to proceed is by first surrendering every dimension of your life to your Lord.  

A pastor was mountain-climbing with a guide.  They ascended on the side that was protected from the gale-force winds blowing that day.  All was well until they reached the summit.  When the pastor stood up at the peak, a mighty gust nearly blew him off the mountain.  His guide quickly reached up, grabbed his coat, and pulled him back down.  He shouting over the wind, “Up here you’re safe only on your knees!”

Can you hear your Guide say the same to you?