Obedience to Christ: An Impossible Climb ~ BitterSweetLife

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Obedience to Christ: An Impossible Climb

Lindsay rock climbing?

If you are at all given to adventure, at some point in your life you have probably experienced a certain type of horrifying thrill. Usually, it happens in Colorado or Arizona or Wyoming. At a bare minimum, gigantic boulders are required and massive rock faces are preferable. The moment of terror happens like this:

You are climbing the rock face, hand over hand, scratching for holds with your fingers. You find one little crevice and then another. You put a foot up, or a knee up, or even an elbow, and push. You contort your body into a rigid, straining mass centered upon a 2-inch indentation in the granite. You activate muscles in your forearms and the backs of your hands that before were just limp spaghetti.

It's all fun and games until you reach the point of no return and realize, abruptly, that there is also no going on. You are stuck on a cliff, trapped on a slab of vertical rock. Your fingers desperately fan across the stone over your head, and find nothing. Your calves begin to quiver, wedged into a marginal "ledge" - all that separates you from a plunging fall. A technical climb has become a rescue op.

The horrible realization dawns: I will have to stay here for the rest of my life.


Becoming obedient to Christ is a lot like this. Frighteningly so. We are climbing a cliff, and getting higher and higher above the ground. Then, just when we thought we were progressing, we find that we are standing still in rock dust. Our sweat begins to dry and muscles cramp. We are stuck in an awful state of static sin. What we always used to do, we are doing, and apparently we will continue doing it. Addiction has cornered us, and the only road out is vertical.

What happens next is a paradox. It appears that if we are going to escape, we will have to play the central role in our own rescue. There is no one else nearby. No one, that is, except the one who inspired us to begin the mad climb in the first place.

We were so wound up, what with the climbing shoes, the chalk bag, the Oakley "climbing" glasses - that we forgot that the God of the impossible also asks us to do impossible things. That's why we're on this wall. The wall is called Obedience to Christ, and to say it's hard to beat is the ultimate understatement. Obedience is an insurmountable obstacle.

Clinging there, shaking, to the wall, we suddenly remember the impossibility of our reaching the top. Then, if our eyes are not too red, we remember something else. Christ commands us to do this impossible thing, but he also lives in us and does the work for us. Remembering that we are not alone, we pray to God, we ask for help. And the next time we reeeaaach for a hold, our scuffed and tired fingers find a grip. Could it have been there all along? New strength fills our arms. Is it really just adrenalin?


I think the fundamental disconnect comes when we forget that the cliff is where we always live. Obedience is always a desperate situation. We are constantly living in a state of moral emergency from which only Christ can extricate us. And awful things begin to happen when we make out as if obedience is merely a hobby.

When we remember that life in Christ is lived out on a cliff face, then we habitually drink deep of Jesus, the "fountain of life." Obeying him is never easy. But we become addicted to Christ instead of our sin. And once we have drunk deep of the living fountain, we may rightly say, surveying the hot rock wall, that there is something in the water.

Inspired by a message from John Vanderhorst: "Obedience - Scaling the Cliff," 5.7.06

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Andrew Simone said...

This definitely resonates with me. It is very tiresome to constantly live in desperation.

Andrew Simone said...


Pedro said...

Although not quite a "rock-climbing" picture, it works. Nice post. : )

Anonymous said...

Could this have been inspired by a sermon? Your description makes it a very "felt experience." Thanks! dleea

Andy said...

You HAVE been reading Bonhoeffer. ;-)

As he says, "Only those who believe obey" and "Only those who obey believe".

R. Sherman said...

Well done. Your analogy is similar to what we used to call "dynamic" moves, i.e. a jump to a small handhold out of one's reach. You're right, that's what we're required to do.


Will Robison said...

Couldn't you just drive your SUV to the top and wait for everyone else to catch up? That seems so much easier.

Convicted once again by another amazing post. Thanks.

Rebekah said...

I've been thinking about this same subject of obedience this week. I had a sort of "muscle cramp" on the edge of the cliff this week, and realized that I had grown lazy in the climb. It is good to be reminded of the truth...that I am always climbing and can't lose sight of the goal. But I also had to be reminded that I have Christ at the top of this difficult mountain, calling and urging me to the top. I'm so glad we're not in this alone!


Ariel said...

Andrew, you may have been alluding to something I also feel: that "desperation" can be strangely addictive in itself...

As I searched through my photos, I was shocked to discover that I didn't have a single shot of what could legitimately be considered "rock climbing." Awful: the situation will be fixed on the next trip to CO, right Pedro?

"Anonymous" is clearly someone with inside knowledge. I forgot to add the usual "inspired by__" tag to this post - a faux pas that has been fixed.

Really, Andy, I haven't been reading Bonhoeffer, but apparently I should be, since he can summarize this entire post in two sentences.

I definitely should have made a referenec to "dynamic" moves in this post, Sherman. I'm kicking myself, that is, beating myself with my forearms, for the omission.

Ain't no roads to the top of these cliffs, Will. ;)

Thanks for the note, Rebekah. I like your perspective on who waits at the top of the cliff - that is certainly the best way to find energy for the climb...

Andrew Simone said...

Ariel, you read me rightly.

Soon I will have something posted which my touch upon that a bit.

Verashni said...

I'm beginning to experience the strange addiction that is desperation. I read this post very quickly before setting out on a weekend hiking trip and it stayed with me the entire time. Thank you so much for this.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife