Last week, I told you a little about my spiritual journey, how I kept getting stuck on spiritual highs, only to crash a short time later. I mentioned how, when I left home for college, I felt worried. I had enrolled at Concordia University in St. Paul (although we called it Concordia College at the time) in the pre-seminary program, and I was starting to wonder if that was a mistake. It felt like something about my faith was broken or, at the very least, seriously deficient. Was it wise for me to enter the ministry? That question haunted me through my first few weeks. I tried to ignore it—I had classes to attend, after all—but it still needled me from time to time.
That first quarter, though, I found an answer that, in many ways, saved me from myself. And I found it in a class entitled “Old Testament Literature I,” taught by a man named Dr. Thomas Trapp.
This was not an easy class. Dr. Trapp’s stated goal at the beginning of the quarter was for us to learn the stories of the Old Testament. Personally speaking, I learned a whole lot more. For example, I went into this class with questions on every single minute detail of every story. I would often bog down the class discussion by asking these ridiculously precise questions about what was happening. That lasted up until we got to Genesis 6 and the Nephilim. I basically demanded to know what the Nephilim were. Dr. Trap looked me right in the eye and sagely said, “I don’t know, and I don’t care, because it doesn’t affect my salvation in Christ.” That shut me up pretty quickly.
Another time, we asked him about another detail in another story (I seem to recall it had something to do with Hannah’s prayer to God in 1 Samuel, but I could be wrong). It probably fell into that “I don’t know and I don’t care” category, but Dr. Trapp left the room and came back a few minutes later with an arm full of books, thick and dusty commentaries. He then proceeded to read to us articles and entries from these dull academic tomes about the passage in question. When we finally got him to stop and asked why he was doing that, he explained that this was how theologians figured out answers to questions like that.
One last story before I finish: as I said, Dr. Trapp’s stated goal was for us to learn the stories of the Old Testament. Our final exam had only one question on it: “Tell me the story of the Old Testament, from Creation to the time right up before Jesus’ birth. Be as detailed as possible. You have two hours. Start writing.” You can see why some of us gave him the not-entirely-affectionate nickname “the Death Trapp.”
I learned so much from that class. And it’s also the class where Dr. Trapp inadvertently saved me from myself.
We were talking about the story of Elijah confronting the priests of Baal. Unfortunately, I don’t remember how the conversation went exactly, but I believe that someone pointed out that a lot of stories like this one took place on mountains. They wondered why that was.
Dr. Trapp agreed and said that there was a somewhat logical reason for that. Think about it this way: the gods live up in the sky, right? So if you want to get in touch with them, it made sense to get as close to them as possible. That’s why, when you read the Old Testament, there are so many references to “the high places.” They were sites dedicated to the worship of gods built up high so the gods would be sure to hear the worshipers.
So why did Elijah throw down with the priests of Baal on a mountain? To give them home court advantage. God wanted to show the Israelites that even if everything was in Baal’s favor, Baal still couldn’t win.
The mistake that so many people made back then was that they assumed that God could only be found on top of a mountain. Dr. Trapp pointed out that God could just as easily be found in the low places as well.
And then he brought up spiritual mountaintops. In an off-handed way, he said that a lot of Christians have made the same assumption. God can only be found on the top of a mountain, and we have to feel that excited for our faith to be real.
Sound familiar? Yeah, I thought so too.
He kept going (and I won’t share the rest of what he said today. Yes, I’m evil like that). Instead, what Dr. Trapp said prompted a journey for me through the Scriptures that helped me recognize a pattern about mountains and what happens on them. It helped me realize that, while being on top of a mountain can be fun, we have to eventually come down again and that the descent might be a little rough.
Come back next week and we’ll see what happened when Moses was up on the mountain.
Until then, let me ask you this: What was the strongest mountaintop experience you had with God?