Where Is God In Our Pain?

By Michael J. Klassen

In October, 1995, 29 year old Göran Kropp embarked on a round-trip journey that would take him from sea level to the roof of the world. What made his journey significant was his determination to travel from his home in Stockholm, Sweden to the summit of Mt. Everest entirely under his own power—without the help of a car, train, or airplane. He would make the entire journey from Sweden to Nepal on bicycle. And once on the mountain, he would climb without the aid of a Sherpa team or supplemental oxygen.

During his 8,000 mile bike ride to Katmandu, he was robbed by Romanian schoolchildren and assaulted by a crowd in Pakistan. He was hit on the head with a baseball bat in Iran. Fortunately, he was wearing a helmet on at the time.

Finally, on May 1, 1996—7 months later—Göran left base camp to began his ascent up the world’s highest mountain, hovering at 29,035 feet above sea level. He wasn’t tethered to another climber who would secure him if he slipped and began falling off the mountain and he didn’t have a Sherpa team to haul his supplies like all the other climbing teams. In fact, he didn’t even have bottles of oxygen to help him think clearly when the air became dangerously thin above 20,000 feet.

By Thursday that week he was camping at 26,000 feet and the next morning, he began the final leg of his ascent. Unfortunately, Göran found himself fighting for every step through the thigh-deep snow which quickly drained what little reserves of strength he had left. At 28,700 feet, a mere 60 minutes from the summit, the snow he had been trudging through finally took its toll. Determined that he was too tired to make it safely to the top and down again, he turned his back to the summit and began his descent down the mountain.

But this story does have a positive ending: On his second try three weeks later, after the famous 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, Göran Kropp conquered Mt. Everest.

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Mountains Represent Our Problems
Mt. Everest accentuated Göran Kropp’s weaknesses. Mountains tend to do that.

Throughout Scripture, mountains symbolize one of two things. First, they symbolize problems.

Jesus said in Mt 17:20, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Especially in the days before bulldozers and earthmovers, mountains symbolized the immovable. Mountains exemplified anything so ominous in a person’s life that it couldn’t be removed apart from the power of God.

It was on Mt. Moriah that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son Isaac (in Genesis 22).

When faced with an enormous task, God spoke to Zerubbabel, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Then God spoke to Zerubbabel’s problem: “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground” (Zechariah 4:6-7).

Jesus was crucified on a mountain called Golgotha

Problems are part and parcel to our human existence. It doesn’t matter how talented or wealthy or even how spiritual you are; even if your name is Jesus Christ, problems are a fact of life.

And if it makes you feel any better, Jesus promised us problems. “In this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33 italics added).

Mountains Represent The Presence Of God
Without problems we wouldn’t recognize our need for God—which brings us to the second thing mountains symbolize in Scripture: The presence of God

Moses was a lowly shepherd tending sheep one day in the wilderness.  The mountain Moses faced was his own self-doubt. Months before, he was a powerful ruler in Egypt, but due to some very poor judgment on his part, he fled his homeland because he murdered a fellow Egyptian.

While on the side of a mountain named Sinai, he encountered a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, “I want you to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians.” But Moses interjected, “Why would you want to use a failure like me bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

God answered back, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (Ex. 3:11-12 italics added).

Repeatedly from then on, whenever Moses encountered a problem, he returned to the mountain. On one occasion, God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock, and then passed by him in all His glory (Exodus 33).

My tendency is to assume that my spiritual maturity will naturally grow over time. I’m 46, but when I’m 50 I’ll be a much stronger Christian. And think how strong I’ll be when I’m 60! But it doesn’t happen that way.

You know what helps me grow stronger? Mountains. Mountains help us on our journey to becoming more like Christ.

We’re no less in God’s presence when we’re facing our problems on the mountain than when we’re on the mountaintop. They’re both the same mountain!

Our perspective on problems is often wrong. We often see it as cause/effect for our sin—which it sometimes is—when we should see them as opportunities for burning bushes and the still small voice.

We may not always realize it, but that problem we are facing, that mountain we’re on, is holy ground. Dare I even say that the problem before us may even be a burning bush.

Problems reveal to us our shortcomings, our capabilities, our limits; they reveal to us and others the bankruptcy of our own efforts. Problems reveal to us what God already knows: that we are fraught with shortcomings. Problems reveal to us our need for Jesus. Our depravity. Our pride. But they also present us with opportunities to rely on God. Sometimes they even drive us to our knees.

Pain is the platform where we often encounter God.

Last Friday we discussed what it means to abide in Christ. While I can abide in Christ in the stillness of my quiet office when all is well in my world (at least temporarily!), I can also abide in Christ in the middle of my problem.

And you can, too.

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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church with Eugene Scott in Littleton, Colorado.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “Where Is God In Our Pain?

  1. carri

    I remember reading Goran’s book years ago, it was a great read! And then I will never forget reading about his untimely death shortly after that in which he died doing a fairly routine climb in WA. It just struck me as odd considering all the dangerous experiences and risks he took prior to that. Just goes to show we never know when our time is up and when we least suspect it.

  2. That’s right! I forgot about him dying. I own his book–I bought it after all those people died on the side of Mt. Everest. Jon Krakaeur’s book “Into Thin Air” is one of my favorites.

  3. Georgie-ann

    Psalm 23

    1 “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    2 “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

    3 “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

    4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

    5 “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

    6 “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

    A beloved Psalm. When we consider the devastating possibilities that can “happen” in this life, on this earth, often in America we feel relatively “lucky” / blessed in many things — but I resist trying to feel too comfortable or taking too much “for granted,” because of an aspect of unpredictability that seems to be inherent in our temporal conditions.

    I could say, “Ah! Would that it were not so!” But that would be so unrealistic as to be pretty foolish. Instead, I continually thank God for watching over us, for “making a way where there is no way” (as in opening the Red Sea), for going before us “in battle,” and for preserving our peace. It’s a consistent prayer stance that feels like putting steady positive pressure on the delivery of oxygen to a place where it is needed.

    We are vulnerable to many things — outside of us and inside of us. We face many landscapes — external and public, private and internal. Each moment of interfacing one thing with another, or one person with another, may bring delight or its opposite.

    We wish to direct and control things — (for “good” from our point of view) — and succeed and fail, overstep our bounds or decline to exert enough effort. And we never seem to be able to figure out the “right thing to do” in advance, so damage control becomes our default option. Life is truly quite problematic on its own terms. (Reminds me of a quote from Zorba the Greek: “Life is trouble. Only death is not.”)

    We constantly “fight a good fight of faith” — drawing from the “invisible” to get help with the visible.

    For many years of my life I felt that, spiritually, I was walking in “naked faith,” surrounded by aliens, enemies, unbelievers, the hateful. It felt very raw and painful. I have to admit that I had some good compensations throughout, as well, and continued to doggedly “follow my nose” in spiritual things, holding on tight to whatever “faith” I had, which at least seemed more fundamentally “real” than everything else.

    For these present moments and years, I feel blessed to have entered into what feels like a safer and more rewarding haven. I have found spiritual blessing, steady comfort, and a home in our very own, very old, local Catholic Church. It has been an amazing journey, that somehow ended up “right in my own backyard!” (How “wows-ville” is that?)

    And we’re all different — facing different kinds of challenges inside and out — “doing our own personal bit” to be a good contributor to God’s Kingdom. It seems to be an endless struggle, making our best efforts to advance out of the holds of the kingdom of darkness and resistance-to-God — (part and parcel of life on earth) — while striving to grasp and hold onto God’s best.

    If nothing else, this obligatory “good fight of faith” should cause us to value our treasure / reward thus obtained — this “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46) — above all else.

    Perhaps we are digging our way out of the nasty pit that satan tricked us into with him, having eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, while we climb the mountain — step by step, hand over hand — back to the realms of The Tree of Life and our heavenly promise. My picture of God tells me that we can’t lose, as long as we keep reaching out to Him — no matter what it “feels” like on the journey.

    Hebrews 11 (excerpted, CAPS added)

    1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” …

    3 “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” …

    5 “By faith Enoch … had this testimony, that he pleased God.

    6 “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that DILIGENTLY SEEK HIM.” …

    13 “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and WERE PERSUADED OF THEM, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” …

    16 “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.”

    We are called to God’s “city on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), be it from our best efforts here, or an eventual heavenly one. Every side and facet of that hill, and each pilgrim’s journey, will reveal another aspect of the truth and nature and character of God,…which, of course, be it quiet or dramatic, can be summed up as Love.

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