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The Deadly Temptation of Shortcuts

In the summer of 1846, a party of 89 emigrants headed west along the 2,170-mile-long Oregon Trail. Tired, hungry, and trailing behind schedule, they decided at Fort Bridger, Wyoming to travel to their final destination in California by shortcut. The “Hastings Cutoff” they chose was an alternative route that its namesake, Lansford Hastings, claimed would shave at least 300 miles off the journey. The party believed this detour could save more than a month’s time. They were wrong.

Hastings Cutoff turned out to be a waterless, wide-open stretch of the Great Salt Lake Desert, that Hastings himself had never traveled. He simply looked at a map of the route that settler John C. Fremont had taken in 1845 across the Great Salt Lake Desert. Hastings then wrote a guidebook which said it would be quicker and easier than the standard trail. What Hastings didn’t realize was that Fremont almost died doing it.

By the time the Donner-Reed party finally reached the Sierra Nevada mountains, the shortcut had cost them weeks. Snow fell, trapping the travelers. This is when the most infamous (and deadly) part of their tale began. When members of the party began starving to death, survivors ate their remains to stay alive.

Shortcuts, supposedly easier ways of doing something, have often produced disastrous results. BLM Administrator Rob Sweeten said, “It’s obvious that [the emigrants] were in need of shorter routes to save time and money. Especially when you figure, they’re traveling 15 miles a day and facing challenges like changing weather and river conditions, and conflicts with Native Americans. Such difficulties often led to them attempting to find an easier route, shorter route. Though, in many cases, the new route turned out to be much harder.”

Possible Preaching Angle:

Satan offered Jesus a disastrous shortcut that avoided the Cross (Matt. 4:1-10). We are also tempted in the same way to find the easy way to growth, status, or achievement. But God uses time, effort, and hardship in our lives to produce fully mature believers who are “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom. 8:29).

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