Thursday, January 19, 2012

What to do with mountains?

It's the new year, and I'd be remiss if I didn't do a New Year's post of some sort. This past year really shook me up more than any other, and I've been struggling to change things up in my life. I feel like I've been running away from my problems, and that's not something a man of God should do. So this year, I've decided to put on my big boy pants and face these problems of mine. I just came off a gaming binge in which I finished an awesome game that helped me out: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It's encouraged me to approach things more heroically, I guess. So I guess I'm buckling my scabbard and shining my shield then. It's time to re-evaluate things and get them sorted out, Link style!

I have spent a lot of my time discussing (mainly with myself) Theodicy, and this whole idea of God being good in light of all of the stuff we would call bad. I feel like there is merit to the whole discussion and that it usually gets glossed over by most people. "God is good, and well, bad stuff happens, but God is good still;" and that's about it. May be there is this perceived boundary among believers, that we dare not cross lest we be smote by the very power and glory of God that we dare to question. As believers, we shouldn't question God because we couldn't begin to fathom the complexities of his being and his plan. Personally, I don't believe that. If I've learned anything from Job, it's that even God can be held accountable for his actions and it isn't wrong for us to ever question the workings of "his plan." At least, that's what I think. Call me sacrilegious, but as I understand it, gone are the days where we die instantly when we encounter the Ark. God is flesh now, and there is no separation between us and his glory. And since he understands the flesh, he would certainly understand why we couldn't comprehend certain aspects of the life he's given us.

I certainly hear a lot about people claiming they would believe in God, if it weren't for all of the suffering they and others have had to endure in life. If God certainly existed, and he were all good, he couldn't bear to see anything bad happen to his beloved creation, right? Or so the argument goes. If God cared about us, things would tend to go the way we want them to, right? Sadly, that's not how things are. You're bound to have a bad day. Bad things are bound to happen. So what are we, as Christians to do about it?

When I envision my life, I usually envision it as a journey, a quest, actually. (I'm a romantic, what can I say?) I'm walking a path through the country. It's straight and flat because that's the easiest path to walk, right? That's the path we want to walk. That's the life we want. Who wants to go through hard times, right? But they do happen, and I usually see that as a hill, or maybe even a mountain, depending on how bad it is. Of course I didn't expect this thing to be there, but it's there. Nobody does. So what are we to do about it? Most folks would stare up at this mountain and whine about how unfair it is that this thing "got placed" in front of them. "God, how could you just drop a mountain right in front of me?" If you're a smart person, you'd know that's totally unreasonable because, last time I checked, mountains don't just fall from the sky. Even God doesn't do that. So You could usually see these things on the horizon. But here we are, staring up at it wondering what to do with it.

So there's this mountain in the way of us and forward progress. What are we to do about it? Well, certainly the easiest thing to do would be to walk around the mountain, not bothering to see it for what it is. The other option, of course is to climb it. But that's dangerous. What do we know about climbing mountains? And why risk our lives when we can so easily ignore it? The mountain will still be there, of course, but it will be influencing us more than we influence it. So the big question is, why do we bother to climb mountains? (And have I totally lost my train of thought in this discussion?)

So our problems, our pain, become mountains, and they're the biggest thing to us from the bottom. So I imagine they may appear to us at times to be as tall as Everest. Who in their right mind would dare to climb Everest, the tallest mountain on the planet though? Apparently quite a few people. I recently became interested in Everest and it's history, and here's what I learned. Everest's peak sits roughly at around 29,000 feet. It depends on who you ask, but they came up with the approximate height around 1856. Since then, people have been wanting to get up there.

Everest isn't the hardest mountain to climb...along the standard route. Most of the danger from the mountain comes from the insane altitude and weather conditions up there. Once you hit 26,000 feet, you encounter what they call the "death zone," which is where it becomes impossible for your body alone to adjust. This is why people usually use Oxygen tanks and bundle up tight. Apparently, there is a mentality in the climbing community that climbing a mountain with the assistance of supplementary oxygen is unsportsman-like. Who knew breathing regular was unsporting sometimes?

So you find people trying to climb this inhospitable mountain without the use of oxygen. Some people even decide to climb the doggone thing alone! There have been around 219 confirmed deaths on the mountain. May be that number isn't that daunting to you, but if you're climbing the mountain, you do become distinctly aware of the death on the mountain. I say this because the inhospitable climate preserves the dead so well that they stay up there. Frozen in place. The death zone is so bad that people fall over dead and are left in that same spot. You can see them from the standard route. Heck, some landmarks along the trail are named after corpses that are still there! So this is no easy thing even when it's supposed to be.

So why are people doing this? They must be insane, right? George Mallory put it best:
"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is no use'. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."

This is the right mentality. This is the mentality I wish I had everyday. Mallory would be unsuccessful in his attempt to reach the summit (though some argue that his doomed expedition did reach the peak more than 29 years before Hillary, he just hasn't made it off the mountain yet...) But it has been done! Reaching the top of the tallest mountain on the planet is not impossible for man.

That's nice and all, but why risk your life? As Sir George Mallory put it, "What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for." Joy through struggle. Who'd have thought, right? If you know anything about scripture, you may have figured out by now that big things tend to go down on mountains. Moses encountered God and received his commandments on a mountain. He saw the promised land of his people from a mountain top. I could go on of course, but the point is the view from the top is unforgettable. Everything that is before you. To Moses, it was worth the journey.

If you've conquered something so great, it's hard to think that anything else in life can stop you. And that's the mentality that we as Christians should have. There is nothing too big for us to handle. These mountains we encounter have no power over us. They are ours to conquer. These problems: the pain, the suffering are only obstacles if we allow them to be. Some may argue that we shouldn't have to experience any of that to begin with, but without the pain, we wouldn't experience the joy at the top. The joy of knowing that we are unstoppable. Honestly, the view from the top is better than the view from the flat lands at the bottom. Without pain, we could not appreciate the great strength that resides within us. Without pain, we would be painfully oblivious of our greater potential.

May be that doesn't matter at all to some people. I don't need to climb the mountain. I'd much rather go around. But even if you do, the mountain will still be there, and it will still be in your way if you allow it to be. I hear so often that sin is always getting in our way. It's not a part of God's plan. It's just something we have to live with. But I wonder if in God's great wisdom, he even accounted for the possibility of sin when he created us. "So he knew there'd be sin but created us anyway and allowed it to ruin us?" No. Sin doesn't ruin us. Christ stands in the way of that, if we allow him to.

So we've all got these sinful tendencies of ours, these things that get in our way, but really, it's only if we allow them to. Christ's power can make these weakness of ours, our strengths. Strengths to overcome the problems of this world. I never understood what Paul was talking about here until now: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

It seems so simple, yet it's so hard for us to understand that God's power, his strength becomes our strength when we are at our weakest, When we are at our lowest, God reaches out to bring us to our highest point, to the peak. This is something I pray I can better understand from here on out. This is the kind of life I wish I was living. Instead of lamenting the mountains before me, I was running out to conquer them, so that nothing else can stand in my way. But not only that, becoming a messenger of change; God's transformation that he intends for his creation.


Denise said...

To heighten your mountain metaphor, I believe God not only asks us to climb (face adversity) in this life, but that he intends to climb with us. There is no adversity we need experience alone. When we suffer, we are permitted to ask "Why?" and have the privilege of being accompanied on the journey by the very one whom we question. He is in the suffering with us now in our life just as he was in suffering during his earthly life. The question can become not so much "Wh me?" as "Who is with me?" He suffers with us, willingly and out of love.

Cory said...

Thanks for the input Denise. And I think that's the greatest thing about it that people also seem to forget. God wants to endure the hardships that we face with us! He doesn't have to, but he does it because he loves us and he's been there. He's already walked the path before, so he knows the way out. It's pretty encouraging for me to know that.