Heights have never been at the top of my fears list. As long as there is some sort of wall or fence to keep me from falling, I can look out over any ledge and enjoy the view. Take away the barrier, though, and the paralyzing pain of anxiety sets in!
Last summer, having purchased our long-awaited and saved for first family SUV, we put it to the test by driving up the Mt. Washington Toll Road. At 6,288 feet, this peak is the highest in the northeastern United States.
As we pulled into the entrance, we saw this sign:
I laughed as I read this and jumped out of the car to snap a photo of it for my cousin, Elizabeth, who was with us that day. Heights are an issue for her and though she was not going to “appreciate this experience,” I thought she might appreciate the memento 😜.
As we set off, I could hardly contain my excitement – I’d been wanting to do this for years! As the elevation increased, so did Elizabeth’s anxiety, and I remember thinking, “She’s freaking out about nothing! This isn’t bad at all!”
Then we got above the tree line:
On this narrow road (with NO GUARDRAILS, remember) two cars needed to fit! What may appear to be a gradual hill off to the left is an almost vertical thousands-of-feet drop-off and since we spent most of our ride up with the drop-off on the passenger side of the car, I was just a couple feet (and NO GUARDRAILS) away from this:
So, here’s the scene from the back of our car:
And here’s the scene from the front:
I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even bear to look out the window! All I could see in my head was us tumbling over the side of the cliff and by instinct I was leaning into the middle of the car. For some reason in my head, my weight was a determining factor in our car staying on this road, and by keeping my weight toward the middle, I was surely saving us from disaster!
As human beings we have been made “in the image of God”. (Genesis 1:27) We tend to think of this phrase as meaning we reflect His appearance or more importantly, His qualities, but being made “in the image of God” means that, apart from the rest of creation, we have the ability to reason and make decisions about right and wrong.
Genesis 1:28 records God’s instructions for Adam and Eve to “subdue” and “rule over” creation, but a couple chapters later, in Genesis 3:5-6, the balance of power was upset. God had set Adam and Eve to rule, but there was one part of creation that He did not give them authority over – themselves. And when temptation presented itself in the form of a talking serpent who said:
“For God knows that when you eat from [the tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
When they picked the fruit and took the bites, Adam and Eve chose self-rule over God’s rule. They turned from being made “in the image of God” to being “like God,” setting into motion a power-struggle that has defined humanity since.
It’s not like I wake up and say, “Hey, I think I’ll sin today! That sounds like a great idea!” It’s just that when it comes to things like my relationships, my time, my health, or my finances, I tend to lean toward the middle of the car – I lean toward control over my own destiny. As humans we want to make our own decisions, decide for ourselves what’s best for us, and have the final say in what’s right and what’s wrong. We want to rule.
Unfortunately, we were not created for self-rule. God offers His all-knowing, all-seeing, perfectly loving and caring rule over our lives and no matter how knowledgeable and wise we think we are, the only thing self-rule has ever resulted in is pain. Every time I lean away from God’s authority in my life, I upset the balance of power and hurt happens.
Thankfully, Colossians 1:13-14 reminds us that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
The word “dominion” in this verse means “power, authority, or weight”.* When we lean toward ruling our own lives, we’re putting ourselves under a weight that we were never meant to carry and a burden we were never meant to experience. Self-rule is a deceit that leads to spiritual depression – it looks like leaning away from God’s oppressive and confining rules and making your own choices would relieve you of a burden, but it turns out it only adds an unbearable one. Being in charge of your own life may seem great when things are going your way, but when things go wrong, guess who the weight falls on? You.
As Adam and Eve found out in Genesis 3, self-rule is a place where what looks like freedom gets quickly flipped into shame and separation. When temptation is staring me in the eye, it appears to be offering me freedom from God’s ‘unreasonable’ commands, but the moment I take it (or very soon after) the whispers of “It’s all about you! Do it your way! Get what you want!” turn into “It’s all about you! It’s all your fault! You did this to yourself!”
Self-rule looks like a lightening, an unburdening, or a freeing, but it turns out to be the exact opposite – depression, worry, shame, and separation. It really is a dominion of darkness!
But when Jesus, who Paul says in Colossians 1:15 is “the image of the invisible God” – the exact representation of His authority and power on this earth – died and rose again, a transfer was made. Jesus came to rescue us from the heavy weight of self-rule and bring us into a new Kingdom where His rule leads to release – because even though in this Kingdom it’s not about you, *sigh of relief* it’s not about you.
The weight of authority over our lives was always meant to be God’s because He’s GOD and He can handle it:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
He’s above it all, over it all, and bigger than it all. It’s all from Him, through Him, and for Him! When we receive Christ into our lives and put our faith in Him, we no longer have to live under the dominion of self-rule and we now have the privilege of living under His perfectly wise and perfectly loving rule where the burden is lifted and put back on Him where it belongs.
As I was hugging the console of our car near the end of our drive up Mt. Washington this summer, I sat up and started laughing – this time at myself! “What in the world am I doing?” I thought, “Why do I think that my 140-ish lbs could possibly make a difference as to whether or not this 2 TON vehicle stays on the road? Why do I think that this lean is giving me any control?”
It occurred to me in that moment that I could have been hanging out the passenger side window, leaning completely in the other direction, and it would not have changed a thing! But then I realized there was one thing it would have changed – it would have changed me. It would have changed my own understanding and my own level of trust in the driver, my husband, who really was in control.
When you receive Christ into your life, He moves you out from under the weight of self-rule and into the freedom and release of the perfect and perfectly loving rule of His Kingdom. But that doesn’t mean you always want to stay there.
I know there are many times every day where I want to lean back – moments where I want to be “like God” and do things my way. There are so many times where I know what God would have me do, but I don’t want to do it His way because my way feels better, my way feels safer, my way feels more comfortable and more satisfying to me. I go right back to the self-rule Adam and Eve chose in Genesis 3:5-6.
But there’s another 3:5-6 I have the ability to choose:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Your lean doesn’t determine your destiny (because God’s gonna do what God’s gonna do!), but it does testify to where you’ve put your trust.
Where are you leaning today?