What is better than a “mountain top experience”?
Many years ago, Tim Stafford shared his struggles with the ups and downs of faith:
“When I asked God to take over my life, I felt good. I will never forget the sense of adventure the next morning brought. I had a friend in God, a forgiving, loving, wise and comforting Father. He had plans for my life. I could talk to Him. But time went by and my feelings changed. Sometimes I felt depressed, almost to the point of despair. Talking to God then seemed like talking to a wall. The joy was gone.
“I thought I must be doing something wrong. I prayed harder, yet felt no better. I searched for sin in my life, but confession did not always bring relief…. When I felt far away from God, some of my friends recommended a new way of praying. Others recommended reading certain passages of Scripture. Yet when these didn’t work, what could I do? Investigate other religions? What?” (Campus Life magazine, July/August 1984, p. 41)
We love the times when God’s love and goodness shine through, when we feel the joy and the closeness of God! We struggle when God seems far away from us. Therefore, we try to cling to whatever might enable us to hold onto the feeling of God’s closeness to us.
A few of Jesus’ disciples shared in this struggle. One day, as recorded in Mark 9:2-10, Jesus brought Peter, James and John up a high mountain with Him. There they saw Jesus “transfigured” before them so that His clothes became “dazzling white, whiter than anyone in this world could bleach them.” And they saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.
That’s the kind of thing all of us long for: Christ’s glory shining through in a wonderful way so that we clearly experience the presence and the grandeur of God!
Peter jumps to do what all of us would love to do: He proposes a way in which they can try to cling to that which might enable them to hold onto that experience of God’s glory among them. He says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
But God quickly steps in to make it clear to Peter and to us that there is something more important than clinging to great experiences. A voice from heaven said to them, “This is My Son, whom I love. Listen to Him.” God was telling them that what is more important than commemorating great experiences is relationship with God and heeding Christ’s words to us.
In that voice from heaven, God was inviting Peter to know and to live in the love that exists within the Trinity, and God was calling Peter to heed the words of Christ. (Interestingly, Jesus puts these two elements together in John 14:15: “If you love Me, you will obey what I command,” and in John 15:10: “If you obey My commands, you will remain in my love.”)
We, too, try to find ways to cling to our best experiences with God. But God calls us to something other than clinging to our experiences.
David Benner writes, “It is relatively easy to meet God in moments of joy or bliss. In these situations we correctly count ourselves blessed by God. The challenge is to believe that this is also true—and to know God’s presence—in the midst of doubt, depression, anxiety, conflict or failure. But the God who is Immanuel is equally in those moments we would never choose as in those we would always gladly choose. Richard Rohr reminds us that ‘we cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s lacking is awareness.’” (The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery, p. 42)
That’s why God calls us into relationship with Himself (to know and to live in the love that exists in the Trinity) and to heed Christ’s words to us.