It was 1985 and Joe Simpson was in big trouble. He’d fallen, his leg was broken, and he was high in the Peruvian Andes. After a freak mountaineering accident, he landed deep in an icy crevasse.
At that altitude, in blizzard conditions, a broken leg was basically a death sentence, never mind the fact that he was stuck in an icy canyon.
After trying for hours to climb out, he realized his efforts were in vain. He couldn’t scale its sheer walls. He would die in the crevasse, slowly freezing to death.
Unless… He shined his flashlight down into the depths, past his precarious perch and into the inky, icy blackness beneath him. The beam of his light didn’t reach the floor, if there even was a floor. Maybe it went on for hundreds of feet, into the frozen bowels of the mountain.
He realized with a sickening feeling that he only had two options. He could die on his icy perch, or he could descend into the darkness, hoping against all impossible hope that the way down might actually be the way to freedom.
This is the road Jesus invites us on in Lent. The road down into darkness, into the depths, to the foot of the cross. The difference between us and Joe is that we don’t go down alone. We walk with our Savior.
As 2 Corinthians 1:5 reminds us:
5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.
We can’t claim to adhere to the Christian life without taking on the ways of Jesus.
Edna Hong calls the Christian life “a downward ascent.” It is the paradox of the gospel that glory comes through weakness, joy comes through mourning, and eternal life comes from the tragic, gruesome death of the one we serve.
It is far easier to keep the whole thing at arms’ length. To look over the side of the crevasse and say, “Looks mighty cold and scary down there! Sensible people should stay out of such messes!”
Yet Jesus doesn’t ask for observers, commentators, or well-wishers. He asks for disciples. Those who would, like him, take up their crosses and descend to the depths.
Oswald Chambers has little patience with people who would only like to imitate Jesus, writing, “Paul says, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’; he does not say … ‘I will endeavor to follow him.’”
We must descend, in humility and submission, obedience and love, not because God wishes to punish us but because we ourselves are already down there, in the depths. Our hearts are great caverns of want and need, frustration and pain, sin and selfishness and idolatry and hunger.
We must go down with Jesus so that he can lift us up and out. So that he can make us new. So that he can raise us, too, from the dead.
It was G.K. Chesterton who wrote, “I have found only one religion that darest to go down with me into the depth of myself.”
Joe Simpson rappelled downward into the bowels of the crevasse making it, all too soon, to the end of the rope. It took him a few moments to dare look beneath him. If all was blackness, all was lost. Then he opened his eyes.
To his amazement, the narrow, icy crevasse opened into a huge ice cavern.
From his book Touching the Void:
A pillar of gold light beamed from a small hole…spraying bright reflections off the far wall of the crevasse. I was mesmerized by this beam of sunlight burning from the real world outside. I was going to reach that sunbeam.
Sometimes you have to go down into the depths to find new life.
It’s what Jesus did for us.
It’s what he calls us to do, too.