Why Do Bolts Fail?

The Big Dig ceiling collapse occurred on July 10, 2006, when a concrete ceiling panel weighing 3 tons  and measuring 20 by 40 ft fell in Boston’s Fort Point Channel Tunnel. The panel fell on a car traveling on the two-lane ramp connecting northbound I-93 to eastbound I-90 in South Boston, killing a passenger and injuring the driver. The collapse caused a section of the tunnel to be closed for almost a full year. Investigators discovered that a contractor had used inferior epoxy to secure the bolts in the panels and the bolts failed to hold. It was a tragedy. When things fail, the results can be tragic.

  • Failure is a common denominator. We have all failed at times. Some of our failures have been more serious than others.  Maybe we failed to accomplish a personal goal; maybe we failed at a job or at school. Maybe we have failed with our children or our marriage.  The fruits of failure may be obvious to us and others. But the causes of failure may not be as visible to us. This is especially true of spiritual failure.

In a technical magazine recently appeared an article entitled, “Why Bolts Fail?” The writer observed that bolt failure is generally due to one of four causes: overstressfatiguecorrosion, and embrittlement.

I.    Bolts and Christians have something in common.  We need to hold things together, but sometimes we fail.  The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 4:16 that the whole body is “…being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part…” Our failures are quite often due to the same reasons as those of bolts. Let’s look at each of these four causes up close and see if we can’t learn how to avoid failure for these reasons.

A. Overstress: Too much stress or tension on a bolt can cause it to stretch, permanently deform, or bend out of its original shape. It then becomes unable to perform and provide the service it was originally designed to do.  Stress is defined as “strain or straining force exerted upon a body that tends to strain or deform its shape” (Web. New World Dict.).  This is the easiest cause to understand. If you put too much load on a bolt it will not hold.

1.  For the Christian this is addressed as worry or anxiety.  We live in an age of anxiety. Worry is from the old Anglo-Saxon word (wiergan), which meant “to strangle or choke”. It renders us ineffective, robs us of energy and health that we should be using to the Lord’s glory.

a.  Matthew 6:25-3025 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? NIV Anxiety is a failure of faith. Our recognition of God’s power and mind must lead us to live w/o fear.

b.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray for daily bread (Mt. 6:3) The Christian does not complain about tomorrow’s bread (or tomorrows weather) We depend on God every day.

c. We do have burden to bear (Galatians 6:5- 5 for each one should carry his own load.) AS bolts we function best with some tension, but anxiety and fear have no place in or lives.

  • Paul said to: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God” (Phil 4:6);
  • Peter said: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, for He careth for you” (1 Pet. 5:7).
  • The cure for worry lies in the fact that we are not left to face life alone, we face it with God. If He is there, there is no room for worry.

d.  How to build stress: Here are some suggestions I recently found:

  • Put off everything until the last minute. In this way you can create a sense of frenzy and chronic stress no matter how much time you had in the first place.
  • Set unreasonable goals. No matter how much money you’re earning, remember there are others doing better. Try to name three of them, preferably younger (and better looking) than you are. Think how others could do a better job than you.
  • Never let others know how you feel or what you want. You shouldn’t have to tell them. They should be able to read your mind. If you assume this, you stand a good chance of feeling really deprived.
  • Never trust anyone. Struggle with problems alone. If you feel the urge to confide on someone who seems to care, remind yourself that people are basically no good and are out only for themselves.
  • Never take a vacation break. It’s a luxury you can’t afford, especially if you’re working up to a really good state of exhaustion.
  • Never seek help. No matter how serious the problem, convince yourself that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that you can tough it out alone.
  • Do not pray.

B.  Fatigue: It is estimated that approximately 85% of bolt fail due to fatigue. This is descriptive of bolts that crack or fail under repeated applications of stress. Fatigue is also responsible for a great many of our failures. Webster defines it as; “physical or mental exhaustion; weariness.”

1.  Spiritual fatigue, like overstress, is also a gradual process. Luke describes these in the parable of the sower. “And those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away” (Lk. 8:13).   Demas, – having “loved the present world” (2 Tim. 4:10)   the church at Ephesus who left their first love (Rev. 2:4).

2.  the great prophet Elijah — a typical example of spiritual burn-out. God had worked many great things for and through Elijah.  But after his famous victory at Mt. Carmel, he seems to have meltdown and views his work as useless.

  • Elijah “was afraid and arose and ran for his life” (1 Kings 19:3). He went a days journey in the wilderness sets down under a juniper tree and prays for the Lord to take his life — fatigue. After the Lord miraculously provides food for him, Elijah finds himself in Mount Horeb, the mountain of God living in a cave. Twice the Lord asks him; “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah’s answer each time was; “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine alters and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:9-10,13-14). The gentle voice of God comes to Elijah assuring him that he was not left alone. He had 7000 in Israel who who not bowed their knees to Baal.
  • 2 Thess. 3:13 says; “…do not grow weary in well doing”,
  • Gal. 6:9 encourages us to “…not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary.” The word here is “ekluo” \{ek-loo’-o\} and means “to weaken, relax, exhaust; to have one’s strength relaxed, to be enfeebled through exhaustion, to grow weak, grow weary, be tired out.” The Hebrew writer said; “For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised” (Heb. 10:36).

C. Corrosion, according to Webster, comes from the Latin word “corrodere” meaning “to gnaw to pieces.” It means  1) to eat into or wear away gradually, as by rusting or by the action of chemicals 2) to work upon insidiously and cause to deteriorate [a heart corroded by bitterness].”  This can occur in metals when they are placed in an environment or exposed to chemicals and other agents that gradually eat away at the material and eventually cause failure.

1.  Paul speaks in 2 Tim. 2:14-17 of some whose “wrangling about words” would “lead to the ruin of the hearers” and whose “worldly and empty chatter” would “lead to further ungodliness and their talk will spread like gangrene.”  Look at the word “gangrene”. It comes from “gaggraina” \{gang’-grahee-nah\} and means to “gnaw”. It is described as a disease by which a part of the body becomes so corrupted that, unless a remedy be soon applied, the evil continually spreads, attacks other parts, and at last eats away the bones. Evil is sure to spread and increase.

  • Paul warns us to “not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33).
  • We often fail because we allow “the cares and riches and pleasures of this life”  to corrode the metal of our faith. (Lk. 8:14)

D. Embrittlement – occurs when certain conditions and attitudes exist that makes us easily offended or overthrown. Failure occurs when the bolt becomes brittle, due to the stress of the load, the chemicals within the bolt and the processes it has been subjected to. The bolt becomes fragile and is easily cracked, broken, snapped, and shattered.

1.  Webster defines “brittle” as: “easily disrupted, overthrown, or damaged …easily hurt or  offended.   Many relationships have been destroyed because of sensitive, suspicious feelings. Our feelings become fragile; we are easily upset and offended.

2.  As those who have been “chosen of God” we are to be patient with one another, “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col. 3:12-13).

  • Ephesians 4:2 – 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. NIV
  • Paul spends most of the books of 1 & 2 Corinthians teaching brethren how to stay together and worship together. He instructs them to work out their differences with mutual respect, to be spiritually minded, to be fellow-workers, to be mature and put away childish things. Instead of being “carnal men” he wanted them to be “spiritual men” who were being transformed into the image of Christ Jesus.

Conclusion: Why do we fail?  Just as a good engineer would attempt to properly diagnose the cause of bolt failure, we each must examine ourselves. Paul said, “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you–unless indeed you fail the test” (2 Cor. 13:5)

  • We need to place our trust in God and not allow the stress and anxiety of this life cause us to fail under pressure.
  • We need to be aware of the danger of fatigue and careful to not grow weary in well-doing, but persevere.
  • We need to keep ourselves pure form the world around us, recognizing the spiritual corrosion is a gradual process with disastrous results.
  • We need to be careful that we do not fail from within by becoming too sensitive and belligerent with each other.

The Hebrew writer said; “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:21).