Drama in the snow
One of the most dramatic incidents in my life happened soon after Christmas high up in the Swiss Alps. My wife and I were walking through the little Alpine village of Adelboden to watch the Men’s Downhill of the World Cup.
We are both poor skiers, but we were not there for the skiing. We were speakers at a conference at a local hotel and we had the afternoon free. On the way there I had a growing awareness of the presence of God: it was not just a spiritual response to the grandeur of the scenery.
So, it was with a heightened sense of expectancy that we arrived at the foot of the slope and joined the crowd watching some of the world’s most skillful young men risking life and limb to hurl themselves down the mountainside, trying to reduce record-breaking times by mere fractions of a second. We cheered the Swiss boys who were popular with the local crowd (there being no British competitors!)
I was sure that God had something to say to me so I carefully watched every competitor racing down the mountain but nothing of significance spoke to me.
Eventually it was all over. The presentations were made; the TV camera crews closed the eyes of the world and the crowd began to disperse. Several thousand people began to walk back into the village. I had a sense of disappointment and found myself silently saying, “Lord, have I missed something? Forgive me if I’ve not been attentive.”
The footpath back into the village was narrow and winding. It was slow going with the large crowd threading its way along the snow-packed icy track which in some places was only four or five feet wide. At one point the pathway turned a sharp bend hugging the mountain face on one side, and on the other side there was a low wooden guard-rail protecting a steep snow-covered slope running down towards the edge of the ledge with a sheer drop onto rocks below.
A Near Tragedy
We had hardly turned the corner when the air was suddenly rent with a piercing scream of a child just behind me. She had evidently missed her footing coming around the bend on the outside of the crowd, slipped under the guard-rail and was now sliding helplessly down the steep slope towards the edge.
I swung round, and together with many others, stood frozen to the spot powerlessly watching the small figure of a three or four-year-old child sliding down the mountainside on her stomach, feet first, with arms outstretched screaming with the full power of her lungs and her eyes looking imploringly upwards. I doubt whether I will ever forget the look of helpless terror in that child’s eyes as her body gathered speed on its way down towards almost certain death.
Before I could even take in the full horror of the situation another dramatic event occurred that was to leave an indelible picture in my mind. Within seconds, as the first screams from the child were echoing from mountains across the valley, a man hurled himself through the crowd, leapt the guard-rail and ran down the slope with such incredible speed that he rapidly began to overtake the child still screaming at the top of her voice.
It was little short of a miracle that he managed to keep his balance on the acute slope – actually running down the mountainside! A few more strides and he reached the child, sweeping her up into his arms, and then was lost from sight for a few moments in a flurry of snow as he stopped himself just yards short of the edge of the slope. He stood there for what seemed a long time with the child’s arms flung round his neck clinging tightly and sobbing loudly.
An Amazing Rescue
The man, later identified as the child’s father, steadied himself in preparation for the dangerous climb back up the snow-covered slope. The climb seemed to take ages as he dug into the deep snow, testing each foothold before taking a step, ensuring that it was safe to take him with the additional weight of the child in his arms. Eventually he reached the guard-rail where there were plenty of willing hands stretched out to help him onto the pathway and to lift the little girl over the rail into the comfort of her mother’s arms.
As I watched the father standing there so close to the sheer drop onto the rocks below and as I watched him on his slow ascent to safety I very clearly heard God say to me,
This is what I brought you here to see. You saw how that child was sliding towards certain death. You saw how her eyes were looking up to her father and you heard how she cried for help. You saw how her father responded immediately, not hesitating to assess the danger to himself, but flung himself down the mountainside to rescue his child. That is how I love my children.
A Message of Love
“Lord,” I responded, “That is wonderful! Your love is just amazing!”
Immediately, I felt a sense of rebuke as though God was saying to me,
Why do you say that? Do you think that my love is less than that of a human father? Did I not create him? Did I not make him capable of such a love for his child? Am I less than my own creation? I am God. There is no other! I created the universe and I created human beings in my own image. My love is at least as great as human love and a million times more and a million times more.
It was then that I heard the words that were to have a long-term impact on my life. I very clearly heard the Lord say, “Tell my people I love them. Tell my people I love them.” From somewhere in the back of my mind there came the words of a song:
Tell my people I love them,
Tell my people I care.
When they feel far away from me,
Tell my people I’m there.
We walked along the path back into the village, silently re-living the drama of the last few minutes, each of us conscious of the presence of the Living God, ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’. In that little drama of human love, we had both witnessed a tiny glimpse of God’s great saving purposes for his children.
The fresh mountain air, the winding path, the breath-taking view across the valley, all seemed to take on a new significance of the God of Creation revealing his everlasting love for the people whom he had created in his image. I think we both felt a little bit like Moses standing on another mountain when he took off his shoes feeling that the very ground on which he stood was holy with the presence of Almighty God.
The experience on the mountainside transformed the evening message especially as we sang:
Mine is an unchanging love
Higher than the heights above
Deeper than the depths beneath
Re-Living the Drama
There have been many times during a sleepless night when I have re-lived that drama on the mountainside and asked myself the question, ‘If that had been my child would I have jumped the guard-rail and run down to save her?’ I would like to think that the answer is, ‘Yes I would!’ But I have never been in that position so I can’t be absolutely certain.
The one certain thing I do know is that I made no attempt to go and save someone else’s child. I don’t find that a very comfortable thought. There were scores of other men near enough to try to save the child, but only one man actually risked his life and ran down the mountainside to save the child – her father!
This powerful illustration of a father’s love has given me so much more understanding of the love of God our Father; who so loved the world that he sent his only Son to teach us to know God as our Father. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating right now. Make sure you invite him to the birthday party!!!
Previously published in: Hill, C, 2010. Unbreakable Love. CCM, Bedford, pp18-22.
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