I have seen ruthless scoundrels, strong as flourishing cedars. When I passed again, they were gone; though I searched, they could not be found.
Observe the honest, mark the upright; those at peace with God have a future. But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off.
— Psalms 37:35-38
There’s a mostly barren and sometimes lonely stretch of pavement cutting northwest from Phoenix through the Sonoran desert.
Great expanses of desert elevations rise and fall, dotted occasionally by small towns with names like Wickenburg, Wikieup, Nothing, Bagdad, Santa Claus, Kingman, Bullhead City, and the like. Yep, there’s actually a town named “Nothing”, and judging by the handful of seemingly abandoned structures there, the name seems appropriate.
Further on, into the lower Mojave desert, another town beckons with its neon towers, home to the kind of soul-wrecking diversions that undoubtedly gave it the nickname, Sin City.
Named by Spaniards for its meadows, Las Vegas rises above some of the most nondescript and unattractive desert I have ever encountered in my part of the country. Perhaps it did feature some inviting meadows when the Spaniards originally passed through, but today, I think a more fitting name might actually be, Nada, because I am certain that it will one day suffer the same fate as the abandoned Nothing, AZ, inhabited only by desert critters and tumbleweed.
My work provided me the unfortunate situation of having to commute to Las Vegas a couple of times a month on business. I usually preferred to make the drive in peace and quiet, rather than subject myself to the bustle of air travel which only saved me an hour one way. It took about 4 1/2 hours total, which I filled quite easily with therapeutic views of the wide-open spaces, thinking about faith matters, prayer, and the periodic cell phone call with my family when an area had some coverage.
There was a particular leg of the journey between Kingman and the Hoover Dam where a fella was basically left with his own tired thoughts. No cell coverage, no towns to stop at, and too tired from the long drive to pray, I usually just squinted through the windshield at the road, stretching endlessly north into the faraway mountain range that held the Hoover Dam, just this side of Las Vegas.
I always got a little uptight coming over the rise of those mountains and descending into Black Canyon. The road became a winding snake until the switchbacks were a white-knuckle affair all the way to the crossing. Once I finally made it to the dam, a large crowd of tourists was typically slowing traffic even further, silly smiles and cameras in hand, wandering aimlessly back and forth across the large mass of concrete and human engineering.
At the midpoint, large clocks on the towers display both Arizona and Nevada local times.
Just beyond, two 30-foot bronze angels sat with their wings stretched straight upwards. A comfort? A warning? Just some creepy art deco flourish? I never knew what to make of this pair, but frankly they only added to my unease.
Once past the dam, I’d wind up the north side of Black Canyon, past Lake Meade and begin the descent into Las Vegas. I would usually swing around the downtown area including Freemont Street, hooking up eventually with the 15 South that ran parallel to the Strip.
On one particular trip, I was traveling this route in the early evening when the city lights were trying to compete with a spectacular, setting sun. It was the first time I really took a good look at something that should have been obvious earlier.
I had never really paid it any mind, but that night I noticed the Rio and The Palms were the only significant structures that sat alone to my right from the 15. To my left was all the tacky and glittering excess of Las Vegas, monuments to everything worldly. Caesar’s Palace, Paris, New York, Treasure Island, MGM, sphinx’s, pyramids, pirates, circuses, space towers, sharks… well, if you’ve ever seen it, you know how ridiculous it all looks, and inside the elaborate facade lies easy access to nearly every vice under the sun.
To my right sat the Rio, all by itself with the exception of the nearby Palms. It suddenly dawned on me that the purple and red neon on the front of the Rio was a representation of Christ the Redeemer, the famous landmark statue in Rio de Janeiro. It even reminded me of the vestments that priests wear. What a mockery. The red blood of the Lamb and the royal purple vestment. At the very top of the building, the head, sat the Voodoo Lounge. Nearby sat The Palms to add to the symbolic mockery.
Millions of revellers descend upon Las Vegas every year and I wonder what percentage of these have ever taken in the city layout with this same perspective. Considering all the enticing distractions, maybe very few, but I hope that’s not the case. It would seem that too many fail to ‘see’ things as they really are, and you would think that the opposing choices here of ‘nothing’ vs. ‘Everything’ would be fairly obvious.
Oh, how many other choices do we make throughout today that are not so obvious and how can we possibly hope to make the right choices?
“The salvation of the just is from the Lord, their refuge in time of distress. The Lord helps and rescues them, rescues and saves them from the wicked, because in God they take refuge.
We have a refuge in Christ, and how happy I am that He got me in and out of Vegas for that period of a year, nearly unscathed by its wicked assault. Oh, maybe a scratch or two, but His Love and Mercy rendered it harmless. In fact, I usually felt even more at peace, comforted and stronger for the battle after the end of my stay, happily heading home to people who really cared about me.
How comforting to know that I can not only take refuge in Christ in times of distress, but any time.