The mountains speak of the greatness of God. My second in a series of three blogs from the Himalayas discusses.
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks in the Everest region of Nepal, setting up a research project on people and snow leopards. Nowhere is the vastness of the mountains as apparent as here. Between the Khumbu glacier that tumbles from its eastern flank to the summit of the world’s highest mountain is a distance of over 3,500 vertical metres (11,550ft), more than three times the height of Ireland’s highest peak, Carrauntoohill. And this reached from a base camp of around 5,300m/17,500ft that is already higher than any point in the whole of Europe.
Nowhere is the tininess of the human race so apparent, either. Built onto the side of mountains, entire villages look, from afar, as though they were made of lego. As the altitude increases, climbing a single set of stairs can leave you gasping for breath, never mind lugging a heavy rucksack up a steep ascent. Even the late great Sir Edmund Hillary, along with Tenzing Norgay Sherpa the first man to stand on the top of Mt. Everest, said that ‘we did not conquer the mountain, but ourselves’. In the death zone above 7,000m/23,100ft the human body begins to shut down, to die. Here, you’re on borrowed time.
This dichotomy – of the power of nature and the frailty of humanity – is explored in a number of places in the bible. The duality also serves to illustrate the greatness of God, as not only master of the human race, but of the entire universe as well. Firstly, though, it’s worth looking at the subject of creation as a form of revelation. Revelation, besides being a book of the bible, is simply the revealing of something, and God chooses to reveal Himself to us in two ways: general and specific.
General revelation gives us the rough outline of God’s character and purpose, like the boundary of a jigsaw that needs completed before the details take shape. The human conscience and creation are both forms of general revelation (Romans 1). By contrast, specific revelation is, well, more specific. Like the centre of the jigsaw that displays the full image of what is being constructed, specific revelation describes in detail the character and purposes of God. The bible and, most importantly, the person of Jesus Christ show us just what He is like.
But as with the jigsaw, where you need both the border and centre pieces to give the full picture, we need specific and general revelation to give us a clear picture of God’s greatness. Without specific revelation, we would end up with only vague notions of a deity, or deities. Equally, without general revelation, like creation, specific revelation can lose some of its context. Think of reading that ‘as high as the heaven are above the earth, so great is God’s love for those who fear him’ (Psalm 103) without reference to the vastness of the sky.
In Job 26 we find one of the best verses that relate the splendid and great revelation of nature to the splendour and greatness of God Himself. Like with the Himalayas that I’ve been tramping round recently, it also relates it to the human condition, especially the terrible suffering that Job was confronted with in his own life. In the passage, Job mockingly enquires where his accuser was when God spoke the world into being, painted the sky, conquered evil, and various other herculean tasks. Then Job finishes the chapter with the awesome statement in that puts everything else in its place:
Behold, these are but the edges of His ways,
and how small a whisper we hear of him!
But the thunder of His mighty power who can understand.
How amazing! Even the world’s mightiest mountain range is as nothing before God, just as we are as nothing before the Himalayas. Yet the real value of Job 26 is the perspective it brings to our own lives. Not only does it gives us the means to more fully appreciate God’s greatness – through appreciating the scale and complexity of the universe, and then some – but it also brings comfort to the weakness and suffering that each of encounter personally, and all around us. The same God who sculpted the mountains as though there were putty is at work in the world, has plans and purposes for those who follow Him, and brings meaning and hope to the darkest of days.
Back in the mountains of Nepal, I’ve run out of adjectives to describe how they enchant and exhaust in equal measure. Not only do the heaven’s declare the glory of God, but these mountains, these glaciers, and all the works of His hands – in the Himalayas and beyond. They also remind us of our own frailty and smallness, but in a way that brings comfort, not despair. For the God who weighs the mountains like dust in one hand, cradles us in the other.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
This article also appeared in the June 2014 edition of the Methodist Newsletter.