Leslie Newbigin argued that there are two world religions. One in which we laboriously ascend to God and the other, in which God descends to us (The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society). To laboriously ascend is to spend your life climbing a spiritual mountain. Picture God at the top imperiously looking down on his creation, while we climb to meet him, suitcases in hand and backpacks strapped on.
All this sounds too religious. Surely, we have moved beyond pleasing the gods? I think that this entire world is striving toward one big mountain top. Take some contemporary slogans, “Be all the you can be, never stop improving, helping you be the best you can be, together we can do more, get more out of now, raising the bar, forever new frontiers, push the limits, just do it, how big can you dream?, Get more out of now.” I can see us laboring, sweating up the mountain, hoping if we work hard enough, if climb fast enough we’ll get there, wherever there is.
I once visited my local mosque where I met some lovely people, one of whom told me something I would never forget. She said, “I live my life somewhere between fear and hope.” Hope that when she meets her maker she will be found a good, acceptable Muslim woman. Fear that she would be forever cast out. Imagine getting to the mountain top, to find that you were not invited in the first place. I think that most of us have find ourselves living between hope and fear. We want to be good, better, acceptable, but were afraid we fall short.
We could spend forever appeasing gods. They might not be carven idols, but all of us, have those things that are right up there with God, if not above him; sex, money, power, success, fame, or drugs. For a lot of us that seems pretty extreme, but there are more subtle ones; being a great Christian, a do-gooder, living for your children, your spouse, or a great cause like racial reconciliation or protecting the environment. It’s not that these are bad, but they can turn sour, quite quickly. It depends on the motivation. St. Paul states, “If I surrender my body to the flames, and have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3) He means that you can act and talk like Mother Teresa, but if you did it to appease the gods, it’s worthless. Many of you may now be thinking, “Well does she just suggest we do nothing and get all sloppy with our lives?” Striving for excellence is a holy good, but isn’t it wonderful to just sit in the reality that you don’t have to be excellent? I just want to let that sink in for a moment, before we jump into our appropriate response.
I have known people who spend their lives climbing mountains or appeasing gods. They are on the quest to be richer, thinner, powerful, or successful. They strive to be more important, noteworthy, celebrated, or just better all the time. This is a hell – one that I have been in. I have tried to climb the mountain many times, only to fall on my butt too many times to count. But, Jesus meets us and he does it not on the mountain top, but in the valley. This is the great miracle: Jesus comes to us. Have you fallen down too many times to number? Well, praise God for it, because here is another great mystery: the moment you are at your knees, you’ve reached your personal lowest, the second you feel that you can’t even look your friend, much less God in the face – that’s the moment you have never been more at the center of his love. Jesus does not require great people who do great things. He is okay with messed up people who desire greatly his great love. In other words, He comes to be with you. You don’t have to ascend to him. No sacrifices need to made, he already took care of that. God, through Jesus, is very much pleased with you and you can find him right there in the muck, disaster, and failure of your life. Think about it, where was the moment when God’s glory was most revealed? On the cross, the greatest catastrophe of all time, but through the miracle of his resurrection it became our greatest strength and his great glory.
Even the greatest “do-gooder” of all time Mother Teresa, said, “On this earth, we cannot do great things, only little things with great love.” When we are honest with God and ourselves we know that we couldn’t climb a spiritual mountain to save our lives, but we can let God love us and he’s always willing to share his great love.
What does it mean for you that God meets you in the valley? Here’s what it means for me on daily basis. The other day, I said the most boneheaded, insensitive thing to my friend. I could see the hurt immediately on her face and I wished to God, I could have taken it back. I asked my friend’s forgiveness and she was gracious to me, but I could not stop obsessing about it. I thought of it for two days, wincing every time. I called her again, just to say sorry once more, and here’s what she said, “We don’t have to be perfect all the time, Lilly. God loves us. We can just forgive each other and move forward.” That was a little thing she did, but she did it with such great love that for a moment, I felt God’s Kingdom breaking through. We might not ever successfully, climb that mountain top, but he will always be waiting in the valley of our life.
You’ll find Him in the low places.