By Mandy Smith
Mountaineer Joe Simpson tells his chilling story in the book and movie Touching the Void.
Thousands of feet up the side of the 20,814-foot Siula Grande mountain, Joe’s safety line was cut, leaving him to slide, with a broken leg, into a deep crevasse. After several desperate attempts to climb up and out of the crevasse, he realized his injury made that impossible. And so, against all survival instinct, he made the excruciating choice to lower himself deeper into the crevasse, in the hope that there would be other exits further down.
All the time he was wondering, Am I lowering myself to freedom or deeper into the belly of the earth? Does a ray of sunlight await me in the pit, showing a way out into day or is it only more darkness and slow death? With every inch he lowered himself, he was edging further from what seemed the obvious way to freedom. And there was no way back up.
How are we like that mountain climber? When we sense how far we are from what we should be, do we desperately try to make ourselves better? Or is there some strange way we can stop scrambling long enough to make the counterintuitive choice to empty ourselves?
Paul’s thorn in the flesh placed him in a similar situation. When God chose not to remove it, and there was nothing Paul could do to help himself, he had no choice but to live in God’s answer to his prayers: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). This kind of perfection is about fullness, completeness. For God’s power to be full, we need to be empty, to give him more room to fill.
When we find ourselves limited by our circumstances and crippled by our weakness, will we keep scrambling to fix it ourselves? Whether our need is for courage in suffering, perseverance in our work, or help to overcome our own sinfulness, will we keep working to be enough? Or will we look down and be willing to lower ourselves, to empty ourselves, and give God space to fill with his power?
In his death, Jesus modeled that kind of sacrifice, that kind of lowering. And we saw how God was able to reveal his power in it. How could God have shown his resurrection power if Jesus were not willing to lower himself to death? We celebrate and remember Jesus’ lowering and God’s resurrection power here in this Communion. And we live it every time we trust God to be enough.
Mandy Smith serves as pastor at University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the author of Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship (Standard Publishing) and The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry (IVP Books).