by Joel Bates
We were about three hundred feet up when my climbing partner looked down and casually said, “If I fall, you fall.” I stared at him blankly, obviously not catching his meaning. “The rope...you’re tied onto one end, and I’m tied onto the other,” he said. We were big-wall climbing, and either we would both go all the way or neither of us would. The reality that I was stuck with him sent a little chill up my spine as I watched him dangle at the next crux, trying to place a piece of protection into the crack. I glanced down at the rope securely tied around my harness and gulped. His success suddenly became my greatest desire.
What if we lived our Christian lives the way lead climbers do? What if instead of comparing ourselves to a rival, we would pray for blessings to abound in them? What if instead of splitting up over petty differences, we would fight to stay together? What if instead of living isolated, independent lives (except for on Sunday mornings), we would seek out each other’s well-being, encouraging one another daily in the hopes that together we would not fail but have victory? What if instead of hunkering down for the long winter of pandemic, we joyfully proclaimed hope?
As a Jesus follower, I’ve tried to live a life committed to unity, but I almost always end up isolated and independent. So what’s my problem? Maybe rock climbing has something to teach us about the concept of unity. Let’s explore that thought.
Before beginning the ascent of a lead climb, partners rope up. This step is not just for camaraderie, but it is vital to protecting their lives as they alternate belaying one another up the rock face. They tie in at the bottom, and they don’t untie until reaching the top. This connection is unity at its core, and it grows stronger as partners depend on each other.
What causes climbers to depend? Lots of reasons, but mostly the ever-present fear of falling. Climbers will tell you that having a belayer catch them on a short fall, before they hit the ground, builds confidence and trust in that belayer and the equipment. The system proved true, but every type of fall still takes one’s breath away and weakens his nerve to continue. There is an unmistakable bond formed between partners when one’s body, mind, and soul experience this threat of peril. The belayer sees his partner when he is most vulnerable and remains true to his pledge to support the climber. Climbers know that their own success is entwined with their partner’s. They simply cannot achieve a solitary victory, no matter what course they follow.
Rock climbing demonstrates how dependence creates unity in three ways: Personal safety is at stake; vulnerabilities are exposed, and victory is bound to another. This is a scary combination. That’s why my hands have trembled at the base of every big wall I’ve ever climbed. These concepts are not original with climbing. Jesus knew how difficult it would be for his disciples to live in unity when he said in John 15:12-13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Later in John 17:21 Jesus prayed, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you..”
The Apostle Paul echoed this sentiment in Ephesians 4:1-6 expressing, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.“ Here, Paul connects his being bound to the body of Christ and the risks involved to being a prisoner. For him there’s no escape. It’s do or die. He calls us to be unified by practicing humility, patience, and gentleness and taking vulnerable actions as we interact daily. Then he ties it all together reminding us of the reality of oneness, not only being tied to others in the body, but to the plan of God and His very self through Christ.
We’re not just climbing some obscure rock with a random partner, but fighting for our lives in a great, cosmic battle tied in with the body of Christ—past, present, and future—and with God Himself holding us on belay. This is serious! So…seriously…is the promotion and growth of the Kingdom of Jesus your greatest desire no matter what it costs you? It’s time to rope up!
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.