Friday, December 31, 2004


Walking North From Berea

One year ago I was just starting to get hints that God intended to reach deeper into me than I'd expected when I made my simple cry for help. Being busy with various things I didn't stop to think about this in detail, but by late spring I knew the shape of the problem.

Need. Need in my life could be characterized by someone holding the rope until I'm at a critical place, and then letting go. Then they laugh when I crash. God has had to work very hard to get me to trust him.

At first I checked every step, using the best tools available to me. The way to reach me is through my mind, and I rationally analyze everything to make sure I won't get hurt. Is it safe? If it fails, will it fail into a safe mode or will I be left with a big mess? The process is cumbersome but what else could I do? Trust is easy to break, hard to make. I was the only person I could trust.

If you fly, you give your life to the pilot and the system behind him. You might as well get on the airplane and relax; there's nothing you can do to affect the future. If you're a rock climber, you have to trust the rope and the person belaying you. Otherwise you stay on the flat ground. You make the decision and go. There's no point in hesitation; either the system will hold you up or it won't, and taking tiny mincing steps down the cliff won't do you any good if the failure you fear but can't control happens, so you might as well smile and stride.

My friend Rick and I were intending to climb Notchtop, a crag on the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park. We walked the heavily used Flattop trail and then went cross-country over the tundra to the deep canyon between Flattop and Notchtop. From there the ascent is steep, on a permanent snowfield, into a couloir bounded by vertical rock. We got to the top of that and then it started to snow. Hard. Rick tied a rope around me and said "Go." I went. Slowly, checking my footing. "Trust the rope," he said, trying to get me to move faster. He didn't want to freeze up there. I didn't. "Go ahead and fall. I have you." I did a test fall, and sure enough the rope dug into my ribs and I stopped, lying there on the steep snowfield. Rick had perfect control.

In that case, even if Rick had failed I wouldn't have fallen far. The snowfield was summer-soft and damp. It was fairly easy for me to trust.

It's different when I feel as if I'm on the edge of a bottomless chasm, no footing at all, and God asks me to trust him. It's worse than that. I have to trust him in order to take the next step away from oblivion. It's God or nothing. I've tried the nothing, but God is very strange. Is he really who he says he is?

There is only one way to find out. Take the step.

A Berean can only go so far. Much of God is incomprehensible because he's bigger and more complex than anything else in our world. I don't have the faculties to understand everything he does. I can look back and understand what he has done, but the next step forward doesn't become clear until I've climbed it. The Berean process of searching the scriptures and asking questions comes to a limit, but the next step awaits. There's another beyond that, an endless spiraling climb into who knows where.

God says the climb is toward perfection, toward becoming like his Son. He says that he will provide all the resources necessary to make the journey. He says that he won't force the pace, that the gradient will never be steeper than my wobbly legs can handle, and that he will hold my feet steady.

God holds the other end of the rope. If he'd wanted to let go he could have years ago. He holds on not because I've done anything to earn his care, nor for any return on the investment he's making. He holds on because he promised to, and because he is unflinchingly committed to seeing that I become the person he had in mind when he guided the components that came together to start my life.

Six months ago I was on the verge of quitting. Only the realization that I'd end up back where I started enabled me to stick that foot out there into the dark and feel for the next step.

Since then I've changed a little bit. I'm being drawn northward, out of Berea, by God's character and less driven by the desolation behind me. There will always be the Berean in me--God put that there--but there is mystery and unknowingness, where only trust enables the next step.

It's interesting to look at how God has accomplished this. He let me get desperate, then he led me to the people who would demonstrate for me an alternative and teach me how to have a living relationship with the Living God. Step by little step he got me to let go my death grip on rationality and trust his rope. Well, he's getting me to do that. There are still arguments, and I still get scared, but I'm still here, and you have to be here to get somewhere. That's no small deal.

Happy new year, folks. May the coming year be one in which we come closer to the Living God of the Universe than we've ever been before.

2004 December 31
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slightly edited and posted 2005 January 3

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