A few years ago my adventure-loving, mountain climbing brother thought it would be a good idea to hike the Grand Canyon... in one day.
When he invited me I thought, "Of course!"
At that time, I had been running regularly and hiking in the local mountains several times a year. So I had the confidence to go and tackle this monstrous endeavor.
As we started planning I realized this was going to be harder than I thought.
21 miles was not the longest hike I'd done, but usually in the mountains you do all the hard work on the first half... the uphill part. Then you get to "coast" down hill on your way back. Of course any regular hiker will tell you that down-hill isn't always easy.
The Grand Canyon though? You have to go down into the canyon first, then you get do the hard work at the end of the day as you climb out of the canyon. It would definitely be ridiculously difficult.
Then, of course, more layers continued to unfold as we drew nearer to our departure date: it was set to be the hottest day of the fall season; there's a good 7 mile stretch with no water available.
Oh... AND this day hike is not listed anywhere by the National Park service as they only officially offer 2 to 5 day backpacking trips through the Canyon. Any people reading the NPS signs are given stern warnings of hiking Rim to Rim in the canyon.
This was going to be harder than we thought.
I was confident though. Because of the other hiking we had done, specifically hikes we had done together, I knew we could all do it. What we had seen and done together made this task seem possible.
So after over 13 hours on the trail that day, 2 of us were still hiking (we came to find out later my dad and brother had finished.) Darkness had settled over the canyon. In spite of the 100+ degree temperatures in the bottom of the canyon that day, the cool summer night was getting cooler by the minute. The irony of our desire to be warm just hours after feeling the extreme opposite was almost laughable -- or cry-able.
We couldn't see the end of the trail in the darkness and the north rim above seemed to deceive us at each turn.
The "top" would surely be "right there," or "just ahead." And as the sheer fatigue of being awake for almost 16 hours began to set in, let alone hiking all that time, hope turned to resignation. I remember thinking, "I could just lay down right here in the middle of the trail and fall asleep."
I knew I'd be fine. I could hike out in the morning... just for some sleep right now.
In his gospel account, John describes the encounter of Thomas, "Doubting Thomas" as he has come to be known, with the risen Jesus. As Pastor Marty taught a few weeks back, Thomas wasn't always the faithless skeptic that this story paints him out to be. He was recorded as being the guy who said, "Let's go die with Jesus." Doesn't sound like a guy who doubted Jesus at all. Yet in John 20 we read:
Thomas had lived and traveled and ministered with and learned from Jesus for 3 years. He saw minds changed, hearts turned and bodies healed miraculously. Yet when Jesus did what he said he would do (rise from the dead), Thomas couldn't believe it.
That night somewhere near the north rim of The Grand Canyon, my buddy and I pushed each other, a few steps at a time towards the goal we set out to accomplish. As doubt set in about whether I could finish, I seemed to forget that I had successfully climbed Mount Whitney - twice; Half Dome 3 times; and many other peaks. It's no Mount Everest or K2 or any of the tallest peaks in the world. But we had just walked across the largest hole in the face of the earth in one day... and we were seemingly moments from finishing, yet it felt so far.
How is it that when we're on mountain tops we seem to believe more easily? But when we have to cross a canyon we forget that it's the same good God able to perform the same miracles... and even greater.
I'm not sure if it was an actual miracle but we walked out of the canyon that night -- relieved, proud, exhausted and confident that we could do anything. Seeing is believing, but sometimes, it takes belief before you see to do the hard work of finishing.
Maybe that's what the writer of Hebrews meant by, "the author and finisher of our faith." (Heb 12:2) Faith is started and has an ending, but there's a long journey between that includes a lot of doubt. Sometimes it's a mountain and sometimes it's a canyon... a really big canyon.
So don't try to avoid doubt. It isn’t to be denied. Doubt isn't a sin until it's dwelt upon. Use doubt to kickstart your faith. Let it be a catalyst that drives us to the feet of Jesus each and every day, to trust the growing darkness less and less, and to trust Him more and more.
-Pastor Andy Gregory