Over Christmas break I got to take a roadtrip across America with my good friend Ian. I firmly believe every young person needs to do this, to get out and see what is out there in the "other places." Ian and I had just graduated college earlier in the month, and when my grandfather told me he wanted to give me his truck, but that it was all the way in Southern California, we jumped at the chance.
While on the plane to California, we met a guy with whom we began to converse with and have the normal, "I'm sitting really close to you but have never met you" type of small talk. When he asked what we were doing in California, we told him about the trip and how we were going to try to hit as many National Parks on the way home as we could, and he told us he had previously lived in the Zion Canyon area of Utah. This was one of the parks we were planning on visiting, so he told us about a few good hikes. "You must hit Angel's landing, it is an absolutely beautiful hike.... although it may be closed in the winter. But definitely check it out," said our new friend.
We had new insider information, so we felt pretty good about our Zion portion of our trip. When we arrived at Zion we attained a trail map and located Angel's Landing. The map said it was "Very strenuous, not recommended for children or those that are scared of heights." However, the map said it was only four miles, so we decided that no matter how strenuous, a four mile hike can't be that bad. We were wrong.
When we got to the trailhead I immediately noticed two things: 1. The trail is paved & 2. There are ten year olds and 70 year olds hiking this trail. I'm not worried. We began to climb the fairly steep trail, taking plenty of pictures and stopping to inspect rock formations along the way. I scoffed at the people wearing cramp-ons to traverse the small ice patches on the paved trail. We didn't need cramp-ons, we didn't need hiking poles, heck, we didn't even need proper winter clothing or gloves!
However, soon after I climbed up in a rock formation to take this picture:
we came upon another young man, similarly dressed. He looked at us and said, "Are you guys gonna attempt it?" Now when someone asks you not if you are going to do something, but if you are going to attempt something, and you don't really know what that something you are about to do is like, that should be a red flag. But we are young, we have just graduated college, we're men, we're finding ourselves, so I gave a condescending chuckle and replied, "Yeah, of course." To which Ian followed, "Only a fool thinks he decides when he lives or dies." If only he knew how close we would come.
Soon after we got to a spot in the trail affectionately known as the "Wiggles." These Wiggles were a series of steep switchbacks, which at this point in the season were a solid sheet of ice. However, there was rock walls on the inside of the trail that you could hoist yourself up on. So, yes, the trail was not easy, but the worst thing that could happen in my mind was slipping on the ice and breaking your tailbone. We slowly but steadily climbed the Wiggles, and eventually made it to the top. When we got to the top, I was overwhelmed by the beauty that was all around me. I quickly got out the camera my mother was sure to give me for my trip, and began to attempt to capture some of the grandeur I was witnessing. I was in awe, I was happy, and I was safe. Attempt it. Ha! It was then that I saw the vulture. What is that vulture doing up here? Ian then uttered one of the worst and most beautiful string of words that have ever come out of his mouth: "Oh..... this isn't the top. That's the top."
To which I replied, "Yeah, we're not attempting that." To which he replied, "Only a fool thinks he decides when he lives or dies."
Let me try to put this situation in a more understandable form for you, because the pictures really don't do it justice. That is a giant rock, jutting out of the earth, and the only way to the top is a "trail" that is basically a sheer rock face covered in ice with a chain stapled into the rock to use as a climbing rope of sorts in most places. There are no second chances. If you fall once you will have 1500 feet of space between you and the ground to prepare to see the Lord. This "trail" should be on the "Only Hike if You are Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger" section of the trail guide. We "hiked" it anyway.
The entire time I was climbing, it was like someone had put a three second long song entitled "This is the Dumbest thing I've Ever Done" in my brain on repeat. I'm sure you can imagine what the lyrics were like. We went back and forth with, "Hey, maybe we should just go back" and then the other would reply, "We've made it this far, let's just keep going." I counted seven total "near death experiences" on the trail, no exaggeration, although I suppose the entire time I was around four inches and two really numb hands on a chain away from meeting my maker. In held out hope, however, that once I reached the top I would be safe to sit, decompress, and take in the beauty that was all around me that I had been desperately trying to avoid looking at as I was climbing. However, 1700 "This is the dumbest thing I've ever done's" and three near death experiences later, I was at the top, and just as terrified as ever. The whole thing was an ice sheet, and there were no chains to hold on to. However, it was there that I sensed God in a way that I never have before.
I finally stood up, looked around, remembered how out of my skull scared I was, and understood a small portion of how massive my God is.
You see, I've heard my entire life that I am supposed to fear God. I have trouble knowing what that means. Does it mean that I need to be scared that if I mess up one too many times God will strike me down? I don't think that's the answer. Does it mean that I am supposed to always bow my head, close my eyes, and say certain words when I come to God? I don't think that's the answer either. So what is the answer? I don't think there is one. And I believe that is why we don't know what it means to fear God. I hear so many people trying to explain God, prove His existence, chart out what God believes, what stance God has on politics, and I think we are scared to look at God as He really is: unexplainable. That day, on top of that rock, I saw God in one of His purest and natural forms. I saw Him the way Moses saw Him. I saw Him the way Paul saw Him. I saw Him the way he needs to be seen: wild, unpredictable, beautiful, and terrifying. God cannot be contained, He can't be formulated, He can't be proven. He is simply and complexly God. What kind of God could destroy the entire Earth and later come as a human to save it? It doesn't make sense. It can't be mapped. It can't be charted. It can't be explained.
When we try to put God on a chart, we make him manageable. Put yourself in a situation of terrifying beauty, and God will show you a small part of Himself, as He did with Moses in Exodus 33. God's glory is too much for us to see and understand, but ask God to show Himself to you and He will. Just make sure to bring a change of underwear.
The faces of two grown men who are about to cry in fear.
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