John Piper and Mark Driscoll Talked Me Off the Bridge
Via The Lookout:
On March 11 2005, Kevin Berthia wanted to take his life. He had climbed over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge and was prepared to take a fatal jump into the San Francisco Bay when he heard a voice calling out to him from above.
It wasn’t the voice of a spiritual presence, but rather that of California Highway Patrol (CHP) Officer Kevin Briggs. The two talked for 60 life-changing minutes before Berthia decided to climb back up the bridge and give life another chance.
Eight years later, the pair reunited as part of an emotional ceremony honoring Briggs and other members of the CHP whose job is to verbally persuade suicidal men and women from jumping off that bridge.
“It was phenomenal,” Berthia, 30, told Yahoo News about his reunion with Briggs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention public service ceremony.
May I be vulnerable with you for a moment? I anticipate some pushback if only because of those names you see up there in the title, but this is part of my story, part of my gospel wakefulness, and it is a part I will never deny or disavow.
I have met John Piper just once, a couple of years ago, when I was in Minneapolis to record some material with Desiring God Ministries in promotion of my book Gospel Wakefulness. On the way to what would be a brief visit to his home, I clutched in my hand a copy of my book to give him. I was told I ought to sign it, because he’d like that. I don’t remember what exactly I wrote inside that front cover but I know it included this line: “God used you to save my life.”
That is not an exaggeration. I don’t mean that Piper’s work was instrumental in my conversion. I professed saving faith in Christ as a child, before I’d ever heard of the man. I mean he saved my life. In my twenties, mired in the rotten fruit of my sin — the wreckage of my marriage, the dead-endings of my aspirations, and the bottoming out of my spirit — I spent a lot of hours feeling nothing and contemplating taking my own life. I dare not describe all of that to you, but I was in a bad way. We had a church but the teaching we received there was in the order of “seizing the day” based on inner potential. I had none of the latter so I could not manage the former. What kept me alive?
I was clinging to the hem of Christ’s garment then, sleeping in our guest bedroom, by which I mean living in the guest bedroom and spending plenty of nights face down on the carpet groaning. I was picking up the crumbs where I could find them. Two sources of bread. The podcasts of the aforementioned Pastors Mark and John. I was getting a vision of a very big Jesus with a very big grace for sinners from them. And the Spirit used their preaching in those days to work a gospel renaissance in my life, a miracle really. My wife can attest to that.
I read the story of this fellow talked off the bridge by a friend he didn’t know he had, recently reuniting to thank him, and I think of the strange places we find ourselves in life. I think of sitting down with Pastor John for those few minutes, his thumbing through my book and looking up the Wikipedia entry for Middletown Springs, Vermont on his Macbook. I know I’m not supposed to be a respecter of persons but I can be an admirer of them, and I can certainly be a “thanksgiver” of and for them.
Providence does make strange friendships. A black man in despair and a white cop. Two animated preachers (one a bit on the scream-o side) and a neurotic, depressed, “stuttering wimp” (to quote a girl’s appraisal of me in the 4th grade — still remember that, don’t you know). The God of the Universe and sinners.
Don’t stop preaching the gospel. And if you don’t preach the gospel, start. Then don’t stop. You don’t know whose life you are saving. Not you, really, but God.
God is in his gospel faithfully proclaimed doing his thing, talking people off bridges. Me? I’ll never forget. So I’ll never stop.