The photographs of long queues of climbers waiting to reach the summit of Mount Everest have been seen around the world. Climbers want to take advantage of a short window of favourable conditions to reach the summit of the highest mountain in the world. Their ambition is to stand for a short time “at the top of the world.” But climbing Everest presents real dangers from altitude sickness, wind and weather and avalanches. Over the years about 300 people have died on Everest, many of whose bodies remain on the mountain.
This spring, during the short periods of fine weather, 381 people have ascended Everest and 10 climbers have died. One man from Britain died minutes after reaching the summit and a man from Ireland died in his tent. A man from India died from exhaustion after being “stuck in traffic for more than 12 hours.” George Mallory, who took part in the first British expeditions to Everest, died on the mountain in 1924. His body was not discovered until 1999 and it is not known whether he and his companion, Sandy Irvine, reached the summit. When Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Everest he replied, “Because it’s there!”
The majesty of great mountain ranges like the Himalayas creates a sense of awe in the human heart. They tower above us and make us feel how small and vulnerable we are. Those who reach the summit of Everest are tiny specks in a vast universe. It is often impossible to recover the bodies of those who perish in the attempt because of our human limitations. Mount Everest stands unmoved as human beings die on its heights.
So, we must look beyond the mountains to the almighty God who created them and in whom we can find help in life and in death. In Psalm 121 the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
Christmas has passed, the decorations have been taken down and life is returning to normal. Yet for many people living in Britain January is a worrying month because the bills for Christmas will soon arrive. Millions of people are entering 2018 with a debt hanging over them because they overspent during the festive period. One advice line estimates that 7.9 million people are likely to fall behind with their finances in January because of credit card debt incurred over Christmas.
Being in debt is oppressive. I remember visiting a man who was in debt. He had been injured in a car accident and had lost his job. The debts had begun to accumulate and he was unable to pay them. The bank had refused to increase his overdraft and the red letters, with their demands and threats, were arriving regularly. He no longer opened letters from the companies to which he owed money. Debt had paralysed him and filled him with fear for the future. He felt very alone and had seriously considered ending his life.
When we are in debt we need to seek help. I was able to come alongside the man and to work out with him ways to begin to address his debts. In time, all his debts were cleared and he was able to move to a new flat. A great burden had been lifted from him and he was able to enjoy life again. Organisations like Christians Against Poverty offer practical help to people overwhelmed by debt enabling them to manage their repayments and, in time, to be debt-free.
When I visited the man I was also able to pray with him and to ask God to help him. God is just and is particularly concerned for the poor and for widows and orphans. He sees the oppression of the poor and vulnerable through immorally high interest rates and he will call such lenders to account. God also provides for us in our need. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition is not only for our food but for all our daily needs. God is the One who gives us all good gifts. If you are overwhelmed by debt, ask God to help you. In Psalm 34 the Psalmist says, “I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. In my desperation I prayed, and the Lord listened; he saved me from all my troubles.”
Super Typhoon Haiyan has brought devastation to parts of the Philippines. Haiyan is one of the most powerful storms on record with gusts of wind reaching 170mph, 15 inches of rain and 45 feet waves. It is estimated that 10,000 people have died in the city of Tacloban alone. More than 600,000 people are homeless and without food and water. The international relief agencies face huge challenges in getting desperately needed supplies to the people.
The pictures and reports have been heart-breaking. A 21 year old woman lying exhausted on the debris where she had just given birth to her baby, after seeing her mother being swept away by the storm surge. Brief interviews with survivors have been deeply moving. One mother, who was holding her young baby, said, “My husband and I know how to swim, so I told him to just save our baby and forget me. I will trust God.” A young woman said, “I don’t know how to swim and I’m so blessed to still be alive.”
The response of these people to the terrible disaster which has befallen them is striking. When faced with possible death, the mother was more concerned for her baby’s safety than she was for her own. She was ready to trust God. The young woman had come though a terrifying experience yet felt she was “blessed” to be alive. In a time of great crisis they have found strength in the living God whom they know and trust. They know that he is with them.
Life in this world is precarious. Faced with the powerful forces of nature we are so vulnerable and feel so helpless. People in the past have known the same vulnerability and have found strength in God. In Psalm 46 the psalmist writes, “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear, even if earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! The Lord Almighty is here among us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Be still, and know that I am God! I will be honoured by every nation. I will be honoured throughout the world.” Let us pray that help will soon come to the people of the Philippines and that, even in the midst of the devastation and sadness, they will know the presence and strength of the living God.