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Monday, September 6, 2010

God of the Mountains and the Valleys

"He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth—the Lord God Almighty is his name." (Amos 4: 13 NIV)

Have you ever climbed to the summit of a tall mountain?  If you have, you can agree with me that a "mountain top experience" is actually quite humbling.

When I was small, my parents took me on vacation to Colorado, and we rode the tramway to the summit of Pikes Peak, a mountain in the U. S. Rockies that is over 14, 000 feet above sea level.  I still remember the awe I felt when a park ranger explained to us that clear day that we could see parts of several states from where we were standing.  Whole cities looked like ants from that perspective.  I didn't get the "high" of a mountain climber, reveling in the accomplishment of looking down at the whole world (well, at least a big piece of it). Actually, I stood at the railing, studying vast washes of gray, white, and greens, and all the mirror-like lakes I knew were quite large at their level, and I thought about how small and frail I really was compared to it all.

Mountain Symbolism in World Religions

I realize now, having taken a lot of humanities classes in college, that I'm not the only person who "waxed religious" when I saw a mountain or looked down from the summit of it.  Mountains are a common symbol in many cultural beliefs, from the ancient Greeks who revered Mt. Olympus to modern-day Armenians who live in the shadow of Mt. Ararat.  Frequently mountains show up as the "residence of the gods" or as a place to offer sacrifices to them (see Deuteronomy 12: 2, for instance).  They also frequently appear symbolically represented in the shape of important buildings around the world, from Sumerian ziggurats in Iran, to ancient Mycenaean and Etruscan tombs and homes, to ancient Buddist stupas in southern and eastern Asia.

Now, I'm not an archaeologist or a certified scholar of ancient cultures, so maybe my interpretation of this shouldn't be taken too seriously.  However, I find the common association of mountains with superior or divine power to be a revealing commentary on humanity.  Perhaps my opinion is shaped by my own "mountain top experience," but I think mountains humble us and remind us that we aren't the gods we'd like to think we are.  They also remind us of our distance from God and His greatness.  Down in the valley, we see each other at the same level, and contend with people whose strength is matched with ours, but from the top of a mountain, one gains an advantage over another.  The way I see it, people have always tried to acquire some of the power associated with the "high ground," sometimes venerating that power and other times trying to use it as a step stool to rise to the level of a distant god or gods, so that the problems of man could be heard.

I theorize that mountains hold this power because they make us look small, and draw the human mind to contemplate the power that raised that mountain.  This Divine Personality is revealed through this natural wonder to be not only larger than us, but more powerful.  Many assume that Divinity with this much power must also be very far away and unable (or unwilling) to see and hear all that goes on in the valleys far below.

Mountains and God in the Bible

Mountains show up in the symbolism of the Bible as well.  Many secular scholars use this (among other vague similarities) to place the Bible on the same level as any other religion.  However, there's something distinctively different about God's Holy Mountain (Psalm 43: 3, Isaiah 57: 13).  Do you know it?

Though God is often described as dwelling on the mountain, He frequently invites man to join Him where He is.  God spoke to Abraham and Moses on the mountain tops, giving and affirming His covenant with them.  He also was pleased to dwell in a temple built by Solomon on Mount Moriah.  God didn't use mountains to distance Himself from people below; rather, they were a step to reach down to the level of the people He had made.  Take, for instance, this dialog between God and Moses at Moses' calling:
"Then [God] said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land..." (Exodus 3: 6-8 NIV)
 This is an image repeated many times in the Bible.  God is not distant from us, nor does the heights at which He dwells prevent Him from hearing and seeing all that is going on below.  I'm here to say that God is not merely a God of the mountain tops, but also a God of the valleys (1Kings 20: 23-28).  God was powerful enough to raise the mountains, so why should we think that He isn't powerful enough to come down from them? 

But, there is something further.  Remember when I said earlier, "Down in the valley, we see each other at the same level, and contend with people whose strength is matched with ours, but from the top of a mountain, one gains an advantage over another"?  God doesn't use the great heights on which He dwells to dominate or bully us.  He is near to us, even reaching out to us at our level, so that the whole world can know Him and praise Him (Deuteronomy 30: 11-14).  This was revealed to us in the character of Christ, who humbly walked among us but was in His very nature, God.

Because of Jesus, I look at the mountains with a different kind of awe.  All the other so-called or self-made gods may dwell on mountains, dominating the people who serve them and enjoying the power their stations hold, but my God was not satisfied with this.  He loved me enough to seek me out in the valleys, because I was too small to reach Him.  He humbled me, so that in the end, He could raise me up to join Him on His mountaintop.  Because of this, I praise Him!  Do you know Him?  This is what He says to you today:

"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest, and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.  To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne." (Revelation 3: 19: 21 NIV).


Shannon said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! It ministered to me and made me think of a couple of related Scriptures.

“For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with those who are contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57:15)

This verse, a prophecy of comfort and restoration for Israel, paints a picture of the merciful God I know. He sits enthroned above the whole earth, yet He is not only able but also willing to come down and dwell in the hearts of those who repent and submit to Him.

The second passage this brings to mind is Hebrews 12:18-29, which contrasts Mount Sinai and Mount Zion, two representations of the nature of God. Although He has the power to send thunderous judgments from heaven and make us tremble, He would rather welcome us to the mountaintop with Him, through the blood of the new covenant.

“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them...

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (v. 18-24)

Hallelujah! We praise a God of mercy. But we must also recognize His holiness and authority. If we refuse His offer of mercy, we necessarily receive judgment instead.

“See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’ The words ‘once more’ indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’” (v. 25-29)

Rachel said...

Wow! Thank you for contributing so many new scripture references to this topic. Excellent food for thought! :)