What is a mountain? You could answer that question in different ways. Most people would just say that a mountain is a large hunk of dirt and rock that goes high above the level ground below. But is that all a mountain is?
This past Friday, I climbed yet another 14er (these are 14,000 ft. mountains). I’ve done somewhere around 100 of them, including finishing the so-called “Grand Slam,” way back in 1999. This is completing the summits of the 54 (don’t let the newbies fool you, there aren’t 58, there are 54, we settled that ages ago) highest mountains in the state of Colorado. According to the Colorado Mountain Club’s official records, I was among the first 1,000 people to accomplish that feat. So why would I climb yet another, especially one I’ve already done?
Well, even though it was a brutal downclimb for my legs (which I knew it would be since I’m only in biking rather than hiking shape), I had a chance to go with my oldest and best friend, his son, and my two youngest girls who had never been on a 14er. The day itself would be enough reason to know why anyone would do it. The scenery would be yet another. The view from the top is the icing on the cake.
It’s always been more than that for me though. The friendships, the trials of the journey, helping people do something they’ve never done, watching them when they make it to the top, making it down safely, living an adventure like that for a day with others, there’s so many reasons I do it.
But in recent years, I’ve become more acutely away of the theology of mountains. This has only added to my reasons. A theology of mountains? Absolutely.
Without going into a book length treatment, recall that in every culture, the gods live on mountains. This is where their divine councils meet for business (think of the Olympians in Greek mythology for instance). The Bible itself begins on a mountain (Mt. Eden). The ark lands on a mountain (Ararat). God tries Abram on a mountain (Moriah). The Ten Commandments are delivered on a mountain (Sinai). The curses and blessings of the covenant were to be performed on mountains (Gerizim and Ebal). Moses viewed the Promised Land from a mountain (Nebo). The temple was erected on a mountain (Zion). Elijah fought the prophets of Baal on a mountain (Carmel). Jesus delivered his most famous sermon on a mountain (Mt of the Beatitudes). He was transfigured on a mountain (Hermon). He died on a mountain (Calvary). He ascended and will return on a mountain (Olives). Why?
Mountains are “between” spaces. Like a beach that is neither water nor land, like a sunset that is neither dark nor light, like last Friday that was cloudless yet snowflakes were forming out of the cloudless sky, a mountain is a connector between heaven and earth. Quite literally. They’ve always been understood that way.
Snow Being Created Out of Nothing on La Plata Peak (Oct 6, 2023) taken by Doug Van Dorn
Mountains are also things that God made. Men make their own mountains and try to climb up to him. That what the point of the ancient pyramids or ziggurats. That’s the idea behind the Tower of Babel. This is forbidden. But God has chosen to come down to us in many times and many ways. Long ago, I had the foresight to read a Bible chapter on the top of every 14er in Colorado. It was my way of connecting the realms, not to bring God down, but to have his word go up on a place that perhaps some other entity for all I know calls home. For a moment, the place was sanctified by the word.
I'm currently preaching a short series on the church. Hebrews tells us that when we assemble in the church, we have come to “Mt. Zion,” the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of the firstborn.
Climbing a literal mountain does so much to a person. It changes them forever. There are so many life lessons and applications that come from climbs. They teach us about life itself. But adding a theology of mountains can help a person understand the deeper truths about God coming down to us, bridging the distance himself, especially though his Son who did so many things for us on mountains. Mountains aren't just about me or even me and my friends. They are a way I come to understand better what God has done for me in the natural world and in the supernatural world through the salvation he has offered anyone who will look to his only begotten Son who went up so many of those mountains for them.