I don’t know about you, but with this revival lately of the COVID virus, even though the omicron strand seems less serious than the previous ones, life seems almost like a gigantic effort to climb a very difficult mountain.
This past week, I was reading about mountain climbing. As I was looking into this sport, I was intrigued by the peak of all peaks and those who have conquered it, namely Mount Everest. But even more than those who have reached its pinnacle, I found myself drawn to the stories of those who have not. This mountain peak, in excess of 29,000 feet high, has proven a magnetic attraction for mountain-climbing enthusiasts of all nationalities. In fact, since Edmund Hillary first set foot on the summit in 1953, over 2,200 individuals have reached that point.
But Jon Krakauer, in his book “Into Thin Air” (Villard Books, 1996), relates the hazards that plagued the climbers in their expedition to Mount Everest during the spring of 1996. That year, the attempt to reach the summit resulted in a great loss of life. Eight people lost their lives on that expedition alone, 15 in total for that year.
One of those who died on that expedition was Andy Harris, one of the expedition leaders. The usual timetable for those attempting to reach the summit called for the climbers to reach the summit, stay only a few minutes, usually less than half an hour, and begin their descent in order to reach the first campsite on the downward trek before darkness set in, bringing with it the howling winds and deathly cold. Harris stayed at the peak past the deadline and on his descent he became in dire need of oxygen. Harris radioed his predicament to the base camp, telling them of his need and that he had come upon a cache of oxygen canisters left by other climbers, all empty. Those who had passed by the canisters on their own return from the summit knew they were not empty, but full. Even as they pleaded with him on the radio to make use of them, it was to no avail. Already starved for oxygen, Harris continued to argue that the canisters were empty.
In 1923, another would-be Everest summit reacher, George Mallory, had gone on a speaking tour to promote and no doubt raise funds to finance his own future and fruitless endeavor to climb this formidable peak. One of the questions he was most often asked on this tour was, “Why are you climbing Mount Everest?” His standard answer, which has now become famous for almost every formidable task anyone ever attempted was, “Because it is there!” Mallory, most likely, never made it to the summit.
When I read about these explorers and their indomitable spirit, their undying enthusiasm, and their resolute determination to succeed at the relatively simple-sounding task of climbing to the top of a mountain, I am reminded of another similarly-constituted mountain climber of old. He is known simply as Caleb, the son of Jephunneh the Kennizite. His mountain climbing story is found in Joshua 14 in the Old Testament of the Bible.
Caleb, you will recall, was one of the original 12 spies Moses sent out to check out the land that God had promised to give to the children of Israel. He and Joshua were the only two, who after 40 days in the land, had come back with a positive report. The children of Israel believed the other 10 spies (what were their names?) and, as a result, were condemned to wander in the wilderness until everyone 20 years and older had died. Only Joshua and Caleb were permitted to go into the Land of Promise after the nation had endured its “Wilderness Wanderings.”
Then, as the children of Israel successfully completed what God had commanded them to do, to go in and take possession of this Promised Land, 85-year-old Caleb, at a time in his life when most people are thinking about shuffleboard and rocking chairs, came to Joshua and said, “Give me another mountain to climb!” (That is my paraphrase of Joshua 14:12). He was confident of the resource He had in the Lord God Almighty and of his own strength and ability to accomplish the task as God had provided for him.
You know, there is a lot of similarity between climbing mountains and living life as God intends for us to live it. He wants us to continually seek after Him and His will, and to continue to look for greater challenges and larger goals. He told the children of Israel He would be with them and provide for them as they endeavored to get where He wanted them to be, and to become the people He wanted them to become. He does the same thing for us as He did for them.
The problem which Andy Harris experienced on that day in 1996, coming down from one of the most thrilling experiences of his life, standing on the summit of the tallest mountain in the world, was that he was running out of oxygen. He had all of these full canisters of oxygen around him, and he even picked one up and held it in his hand. But the lack of what he needed so disoriented his mind that though he was surrounded by a restoring supply, he continued to complain of its absence. The very thing he held in his hand was absent in his brain and ravaged his capacity to recognize what he was clutching in his grasp.
All too often we discover the same thing is true for us spiritually as well. We tend to rely on our own strength, our own ingenuity, our own knowledge, when the eternal, all-knowing, all-wise Spirit of God dwells inside of us (if we know Jesus). All we have to do is call out to Him for help and He will answer!
Happy mountain climbing.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]