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.