Three Mile an Hour God

“God walks slowly because he is love. If he is not love,
he would have gone much faster.”
-Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God

“So—on your feet, get moving! Walk through the country,
its length and breadth; I’m giving it all to you.”
-Genesis 3:17

Excerpted and adapted from the forthcoming Chasing 70: The Quest to Live Life at the Pace of Christ.

THERE IS A TRAIL that begins in modern Nazareth and winds forty miles north by northeast until it reaches the entrance of the ancient town, now ruins, of first century Capernaum, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It’s called The Jesus Trail, since it follows the presumed path that Christ would have taken when he traveled between the two locations in first century Palestine. In July of 2016, during a five-year stint when our family was living in northern Israel–where we had moved to establish a local branch of the Young Life youth ministry–despite daytime temperatures that often ticked up over a hundred, I hiked the entire trail over a period of four days with a group of American college students, local teens, and young adults, as well as my then twelve-year old daughter Haley. We hired a local guide, Amer, who was both a neighbor — he lived in the house catty-corner to ours in Nazareth — and one of the top backcountry guides in the Galilee. If it’s possible to know a piece of land like the back of your hand, Amer knew every vein, tendon, joint and knuckle of northern Israel as well as anyone.

We would set out each day at sunrise, as soon as we had enough light to see the trail, and finish by mid-morning before the heat became too unbearable.

Our group took our time, moving at a pace forced upon us in part by the heat, but also by our desire for conversation and relationship. We made our share of mistakes. None of us were regular hikers and at times we carried too little sunscreen or not enough water, failed to put enough protein in our stomachs or chose the wrong type of shoes for long days of walking. But along the way we discovered the magic and wonder of unhurried community. We had the space to get to know one another without the limitation of time so dominant in modern society. Instead of rushing to gather information or to get our point across, we could converse at a leisurely pace, pause when it felt right, then simply pick back up the following morning. Extrovert or introvert, no matter. Even the silence simply felt like one more hiker who had joined our pilgrimage.

…the only thing we were racing was the sun, and even that caused us little angst; we could always lessen our daily mileage and extend the hike a day if needed.
From Nazareth to Cana, we walked through semi-urban developed areas, but once on the far side of Cana the lack of any physical infrastructure was almost staggering. This is one of the top tourist areas on the planet, yet we would walk for hours without seeing any buildings, hearing any noises that betrayed civilization, or being distracted by buzzing phones. We passed magnificent fields of sunflowers that stood shoulder high. We stopped to look at sections of first century Roman roads, still unexcavated by the Ministry of Tourism. Amer would direct our attention to a half-concealed stretch of such byway, partially buried under rocks and shrubs, or one of the ancient wine presses largely hidden among weeds and boulders, and then uncover the layers of biblical, historical, and geopolitical history for us.

We listened to birds sing, to breezes blow and to the crackle of crushed gravel underfoot. Throughout the entire adventure, I couldn’t help but picture Jesus walking along ahead of us, across time and space, among a handful of his Galilean friends. At times perhaps it would be a group the size of ours, at others just James and John and Peter. Amer confirmed to us there was little doubt they passed this same way on many occasions, if not on the exact trail we were following, likely within meters, as the topography dictated.
At the end of our four days hiking the trail in 2016, when we finally reached modern Lake Tiberias-ancient Sea of Galilee, we did what any exhausted and over-heated hikers would do. We jumped in for a summer swim. I have no doubt that Jesus and his friends did the same.

Without knowing it at the time, our little band of wanderers had just spent the better part of a week moving at the pace of the Three Mile an Hour God.

In 1979, Japanese writer Kosuke Koyama wrote a book by that title. In it, Koyama writes about a Jesus who intentionally chose to move slowly, roughly the speed we still use to cover that distance today on foot, about a mile every twenty minutes. Three miles each hour. The same pace we had assumed during our four-day hike along the Jesus Trail. But instead of accepting this as merely a physical bar to which all bipeds tend to adhere, Koyama suggests a deeper reason. A reason that has nothing to do with era or culture or topography. He claims a hidden message for humanity in Jesus’ unhurried approach to how he engaged people.

“God walks slowly because he is love,” says Koyama. “If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed.”

What if we too began to live life at the speed Jesus’ modeled for us all those years ago? What if we moved along at the pace of the Three Mile an Hour God, choosing people over technology, relationships over productivity? What if put the material aside when the human came calling?

I think about those four days on the Jesus Trail often. In some ways, I’ve been trying to recapture them ever since. Some days I fail. Some days I feel like I’m close. The one thing I know for sure: the more I pay attention to the rhythms of Christ, to the pace of the Three Mile an Hour God, the closer I feel to a life metered out at the speed I was designed for. Godspeed.