I was recently chatting with my siblings about a bewildering statement made by our older brother Paul. Paul said, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”
There’s a lot to ponder about this sentence, but for the time being I would simply invite you to imagine the experience of mountaineering. First of all, mountains are dangerous. When you’re climbing a 19,000 foot mountain (like Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, 19,341 ft above sea level) oxygen is hard to come by, and even though I got C’s and D’s in biology in High School, I’m pretty confident that humans need oxygen to live. Inclement weather poses serious threats. Obviously there’s the risk of simply falling to your death. And there are any number of injuries a person might sustain while climbing mountains. YET …the mountains (these overwhelming, deadly, pinnacles of planet earth) beckon to us and beguile us into their presence. Last summer my wife and I spent a week in Colorado, and the traffic on I-70 westbound from Denver into the heart of the Rockies was backed up for miles! People can’t keep themselves away; the majesty, grandeur, and immensity of mountains woos us.
This is how it is with God. How can we not be full of fear and trembling, and yet how can we keep ourselves from rushing (like Denverites heading westward on the weekends) into the presence of the only true and living God!
One other thing I noticed while in the Colorado Rockies is that mountains make you see people for who they really are. Pretense is stripped away, and you recognize that people are unique, frail, and inescapably wired for fellowship. People are unique in that they climb mountains for the beauty and the adventure of it. They are not pragmatically migrating, or clambering to summits expecting to find food or other resources. Humans, unlike all other creatures, go to great lengths to savor what’s beautiful and exhilarating. And mixed with the enlivening experience of hiking up a mountain is an inescapable reckoning with one’s own weakness. There’s no pretending that you are bigger than the mountain, and frankly no matter how experienced and acclimatized you get to the altitude, huffing and puffing is universal. And finally, there is an innate craving for camaraderie clearly on display when you hike a mountain. People see each other on the mountain. Instead of having your face stuck to a screen, your eyes are available to say hello to folks you meet on the hike. Instead being on guard around people, there is an innate desire to get to know them and listen to some of their story. Instead of selfish hoarding, the mountains force you to admit you don’t ultimately own anything and suddenly the sensibility and proclivity to share is strengthened.
Jesus said that the big command is to LOVE GOD, and the second biggest command is to LOVE OTHERS. And Jesus isn’t talking about an expert academic comprehension of love, but the actual practice and experience of loving God and loving others. You may own maps of mountain ranges, and you may even be an expert cartographer, but you don’t really experience the joy of fear and trembling until you actually climb a mountain. This cannot be overstated, some expert cartographers may even recognize their experiential deficiencies and seek to supplement with emotionally engrossing, visually riveting, documentaries (like Meru and Free Solo), but even this is not enough …only personal, first-hand, exposure to the mountain will suffice. Likewise, it is only by venturing into the treacherous realm of actually loving God and loving others that we will find deep satisfaction for our souls.
Hopefully this blog post helps you further ponder Philippians 2:12-13 and Matthew 22:37, AND hopefully it contributes to your desire and commitment to go climb more mountains!