The Road Less Traveled – Conquering The Impossible Summit 


By Jason Herring 

When I was asked to right the outdoors column for Christian Living, I was given liberty to make it into whatever I imagined. As a kid my aunt bought me a subscription to Outdoor Life magazine, and I was engrossed with the stories of close encounters with grizzly bears and mountain lions. I loved reading about wilderness adventure as much as history. Today my favorite documentaries on Amazon Prime and Netflix are those about mountain climbing. I rushed to the theater to see The Alpinist when it debuted a few months ago, and an entire shelf in my library is filled with the exploits of high-altitude mountaineers. So when I think of an outdoor column, I imagine predators and perilous expeditions. 

Last month I wrote on the subject of mercy, pointing out that nowhere do we more closely resemble our Heavenly Father than when we show mercy and kindness to our adversaries. That doesn’t really fall under the category of daring adventure and danger. But this column is more than just a bi-monthly installment about the great outdoors. It’s an essay of the road less traveled. And I’ve come to discover that empathy and mercy are as remote as any peak in the Karakoram. 

As if simply loving my neighbor wasn’t hard enough, Christ had to up the ante and command me to love my enemies. And knowing our inclination to find loopholes like the rich young lawyer, He dispensed with any ambiguity in our obligation to our opposition: Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. It’s as clear and as daunting as a view of Everest from Base Camp. 

I can hear someone asking Jesus why He would want to forgive people who cursed Him and despised Him and persecuted Him without cause. Why would He suffer so much and still forgive so much? “Because it is there,” He might very well respond, if I may borrow that famous line from George Mallory. Yes, because it is there. Because it was a mountain that was impossible to conquer. Others had made forays on its forbidding slopes. We see glimpses throughout the old testimonies of brave but feeble efforts to reach the summit. As a man after God’s own heart, David holds the most promise. His treatment of Saul and Mephibosheth are powerful examples of mercy. But it’s one thing to love a vanquished or crippled enemy. It’s quite another to love an enemy who has an arsenal pointed at your jugular. David’s imprecatory prayers are wonderful examples of our ultimate dependence on God and our freedom to be completely raw in our prayer life. But they also show us the dangers of the Death Zone and that David never made it to High Camp much less the summit. He dared greatly and we can give him credit for that. All the while the world still dreamed of the day when the soul felt its worth. 

A thousand years later the Son of Man prays to the God who has forsaken Him, asking forgiveness for those who have despised and rejected Him in the dying moments of His public execution. He is not a martyr dying for a cause. He is Messiah sacrificing Himself to give life to those who oppose His cause. And in that moment the mountain is conquered and the rough and treacherous route is marked. With fixed ropes and porters we can now attempt what was once considered impossible. With the scriptures to ground us and the Spirit to guide us, we can lay hold of that which Christ Jesus has laid hold of for us. 

In 2018, of the 5,656 attempted ascents of Mount Everest, there was a 4% mortality rate, according to the Seattle Times. That means that ninety-six percent of those who attempt the world’s tallest peak are successful. And that success is owed to Sir Edmund Hillary and Jim Whittaker and the rest of the early pioneers who paved the way and climbed without the GPS and weather satellites and modern equipment that we enjoy today. 

But it is still the road less traveled. And every season brings tragic tales of those who perish on the slopes of the world’s tallest cathedrals. 

There were a great many leaders and strong personalities during the Civil Rights movement, but there is a reason why we celebrate the contribution of Martin Luther King Jr. He fought hatred with love and overcame violence with peace. He took the road less traveled. There’s a reason why his impact is being marginalized today by those who prefer the wide and well-worn path of vengeance and retribution. It’s no coincidence that Mahatma Gandhi’s biggest influence was Jesus even though he was not a Christian. It’s no coincidence that he revolutionized a nation by putting into practice the same principles that altered the ancient world. He took the road less traveled. And these men paid the ultimate price so that others could reap the benefit. 

The path of mercy can be costly. At the very least it will cost you your pride and that wonderful sense of satisfaction that comes from vindication. Forgiveness by itself is tough, but blessing and doing good and praying for those who have wronged you is an arduous climb. Loving your enemies is full of risks. Reconciliation is fraught with peril. But when we take the road less traveled we mark the way for others and embark on a grand adventure of grace. 

Do you realize that the chances of dying in a car crash on the freeway are actually the same as dying on Mount Rainier? But the freeway doesn’t require a registration fee with the National Park. The freeway doesn’t require months of training. The freeway doesn’t feel anywhere near as dangerous as the most glaciated peak in the lower 48. The freeway also doesn’t have the vistas and euphoria that Washington’s high point has to offer. There’s nothing remarkable about the freeway, but the mountain gives us an experience to share with others. 

Let me conclude with this quote from Frederick Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat: 

“The love for equals is a human thing—of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles. The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world. The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing—to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is always bewildered by its saints. And then there is the love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer. This is God’s love. It conquers the world.” 




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