On the Side of a Mountain

The last six months of my military service were some of the best times of my life. I left Berlin and worked as a mountain guide for Armed Forces Recreational Services in Berchtesgaden, Germany. Every day I taught mountaineering or kayaking in the Alps!

Most of the time it was fantastic, but sometimes the Army bean counters got in the way. Once they decided it would be more profitable if I led a dozen people up a very dangerous mountain instead of the usual four or five. It was a disaster as you can well imagine. We didn’t make the summit and we ended up having to spend the night out on the side of the mountain praying for daylight.

It was very cold. We huddled together for warmth. Earlier in the day, it looked like any other summer day, so the guests decided to lighten their rucksacks and leave behind the extra sweaters and food I told them to bring. 

When we were forced to bivouac on the side of the mountain, they paid a dear price. All we could do was wait, pray for dawn and pass the time talking. Eventually, the conversation got around to me. They knew I was getting out of the Army and I was getting ready to go home. 

“So, what will you do back in the States?” they asked. I told them I was going to study to become a preacher. One of the men, a very well-educated neurologist, snapped, “I don’t believe in God.” He then proceeded to launch into a very well-practiced lecture outlining the reasons he didn’t believe in God. He was delighted and had obviously given this speech many times before.

I tried to think of all the arguments I knew for proving the existence of God. I remembered some from my Sunday School classes: the Ontological Argument, the Teleological Argument, the Argument from Design – I could remember the names but I couldn’t remember the arguments themselves! I felt like I had to say something, but I was wrong. God spoke in his own defense and his voice was overwhelming.

In the midst of a sentence, in the midst of a word, it was almost as if this man’s tongue had swollen up and silenced him. In a man-made classroom surrounded by fluorescent lights and linoleum floors, his arguments might have made sense, but here, on the side of a mountain, secured by only the tiniest of ropes beneath a star-filled sky, my poor friend met his match. Perhaps for the very first time, he heard what he was saying and it made no sense at all on our airy perch. God’s voice thundered. The stars, the mountains, the valley far below, they all shouted back. Our God, He is alive!

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