God of the Mountains and the Valleys
July 13, 2023 | Rob Bloss
"Why would you want to climb Mount Everest?" George Mallory was asked this question in 1924 and gave the most obvious answer: "Because it’s there."
I’ve been fascinated with Mount Everest for most of my adult life. The bestselling book Into Thin Air by John Krakauer—the epic account of the storm on the summit of Mt. Everest that claimed five lives and left countless more, including Krakauer's, in guilt-ridden disarray—helped fuel the delusional notion that I would one day stand on top of the world.
I grew up against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. On most days, I could gaze west and see the diamond face of Longs Peak (elevation 14,259 feet). I have a picture of the mountain in my office and on my nightstand. It’s an iconic, influential emblem in my spiritual journey and personal story.
The majesty of the mountains of Colorado (or anywhere for that matter) can stir the soul. When religious experiences are called mountaintop experiences, it is no cliché. In the Bible, mountains are often the places where God encounters people, changes their lives, and sends them back down to the world with a prophetic message.
What is it about mountains that invoke a spiritual or religious response from us as human beings? Maybe it’s the thinness of the air or the exhaustion when we finally reach the top? Or the challenge of reaching the seemingly unreachable?
Scripture gives us stories of literal mountain top experiences that color our expectations for what it means to encounter the divine:
- Abraham and Isaac climbing together in an act of extreme devotion to God and experiencing the mercy of God at its apex
- Moses climbing Mt. Sinai again and again to commune with God and to better understand not just the essential laws for the life of the community, but the rhythms and cycles of what their covenantal life together will be like in the Promised Land
- Jesus climbing to the top of a mountain not to receive, but to give a new understanding of those laws shaping our communal life together as Christians through the Sermon on the Mount
- And let’s not forget the Mount of Olives and the Mount of Transfiguration!
Mountaintop experiences can be truly genuine, exhilarating and beautiful. They’re moments we experience God in an intense, intimate way. But mountaintop experiences can be few and fleeting. What about the rest of life? What about the time spent in the valleys—in the waiting, the wandering, the aching, the struggling? Is He there, too? Can He meet us, speak to us and work in our lives in life’s valleys too? In the low and lonely places?
While I summited Longs on two occasions, I’ve also attempted and failed to reach the summit. On one of those expeditions, our band of four brothers, packs loaded with water, trail mix and layers of cloths for the ever-changing weather above tree line, left the trailhead at 3:00am. I had just finished three consecutive weeks as the program director for a church camp located just a few miles away. I was exhausted but ready to have an adventure of my own.
This trip was led by a local legend with the promise of a more technical climb along the edge of the diamond. But unfortunately, the afternoon showers came early, and we were pushed off by the sound of thunder as we entered the boulder field just above 11,000 feet.
We made it off the mountain by mid-day, and while I had planned to spend the night at the camp, I decided to drive down the canyon to hang with friends. I never made it. I fell asleep, went off the road and parked my mangled car in the middle of the Big Thompson River. My 76’ Capri was now up to its windows in raging waters and facing 180 degrees from the direction of home.
But I was alive! In fact, even though I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, I escaped with minor scrapes and bruises.
I’m grateful for the times I’ve been to the mountain top, for those powerful moments of encountering God in some life-changing ways. I’ve seen him move in my life and the lives of others on multiple occasions. I’ve also been pushed back by life’s storms, experienced significant losses, and more than a few times made a wreck of my life.
As I waved at the women across the river enjoying a glass of wine on their deck to let them know I was fine, I was embarrassed by my stupidity. But more than anything, I was beyond grateful for God’s hand of protection over my life. I didn’t reach the summit that day, but God reached me in more ways than I have time to share in this blog.
Life is a perpetual ascending and descending. And through the ups and downs, God is there! On the mountain top and even through the valley of the shadow of death, He is always there. He knows, He cares, He’s in control…He is present.
The words of Psalm 121 come to my mind when I’m back home in Colorado and looking west toward the mountains. Reading them takes me back to those days where He spoke life into my being both spiritually and physically.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
He will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.