Monday, May 27, 2013

The Mountain of Suffering Long

In Hannah Hurnard's allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, Much-Afraid lives in the Valley of Humiliation along with her terrible relatives, the Fearings. When the Chief Shepherd comes and rescues her from her dreadful circumstances she begins a trip to the High Places that will change her life.

It is not an easy journey -- her twisted feet and her weak nature make the journey through the rugged mountains almost unbearable. But the Chief Shepherd gently guides her and provides her with traveling companions (namely, Sorrow and Suffering) who accompany her all the way to the High Places.

As the journey begins, the Chief Shepherd opens Much-Afraid's chest and plants within her heart a small seed that takes root through the journey. When at last she freaches the High Places, she finds that the seed has blossomed into divine love, a self-sacrificing love that affects her so deeply that she is willing to return to the Valley of Humiliation, where her horrible relatives live, so that she can introduce them to the Chief Shepherd and they can travel to the High Places too.

It is a wonderful story. I read it nearly 30 years ago and have thought of it often. So when I recently picked up the sequel, Mountains of Spices, it was a delight to find myself once again in the Valley of Humiliation. But this time Much Afraid goes by the new name the Chief Shepherd gave her -- Grace and Glory. Her twisted feet have also been straightened by the Shepherd. Now she walks on the feet of a mountain deer, a hind, and everything about her is lovely. She endures the scorning she receives from her relatives because of the divine love that is blooming in her heart and because her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, are now known ass Joy and Peace.

But it is her time with the Chief Shepherd that has the greatest impact upon Grace and Glory. When she is on the High Places she travels with him to the various mountains of spices that rise off in the distance. Each mountain is covered with the most lovely blossoms of spices, each one representing one of the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control).

It is on the Mountain of Saffron where Grace and Glory now sits with the Chief Shepherd.
This mountain, on which grew the spice flowers of longsuffering, was far more exposed than any of the other mountains, for it jutted out some way in front of them all and was so open to the elements and to all the raging tempests, that in comparison with the other peaks its slopes were almost bare. Neither fruit trees nor flowering shrubs clothed its sides, indeed, except for a few scattered pine trees, it was bare of trees altogether. 
But it towered up to a peculiarly beautifully shaped peak and a great part of it was always covered with snow. All over the slopes, however, grew carpets of crocuses of the most delicate and beautiful hues. Even on the areas where the partly melted snow still lingered, they pushed themselves up through the white covering to greet the light, forming patches of delicate mauve, lavender, periwinkle blue, yellow and orange, deep purple and palest rose pink, so that no part of the mountain remained unclothed, either in the pure white of snow or the rainbow colored robe of flowers. 
When Grace and Glory notices how the flowers rise up, uncrushed, as soon as they have been trampled on, she asks the Chief Shepherd how they can do this. It is longsuffering, he tells her, "It bears quite happily everything that is done against it, resents not at all being trampled under foot, and reacts to the wrongdoing of others against it as though no wrong had been done at all, or else as though it had forgotten all about it! For longsuffering is really the lovely quality of forgiveness and bearing contentedly and joyfully the results of the mistakes and wrongdoing of others."

She realizes that this exquisitely beautiful garden is actually "the Mountain of Suffering Long." It was this strange paradox which led Grace and Glory at last to break the thoughtful silence in which they had been sitting.

"'My Lord,' she said, 'this is called the Mountain of Longsuffering. Has love no power to save and help others apart from suffering? Why must love suffer at all, and why, above all else, must love suffer long?'"

And here is the Shepherd's reply. "It is because the very essence of love is oneness. That is why love must suffer. If the beloved creatures from whom the Creator created for love's sake must suffer, then the oneness of love makes it impossible for him to allow them to suffer anything which he is not willing to suffer with them. It is because the whole body of mankind is suffering so dreadfully from the disease of sin and all its dreadful consequences, that I, who am so one with mankind, must suffer it all with them."

If we, in our 21st century lives, walk with the Chief Shepherd, if we have had his seed of love planted in our hearts, if we seek to know and love and honor Him, then we, too, will learn that love and suffering cannot be separated. The sufferings of others will pierce our own hearts as we love them. We will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:7) -- not because we are such amazing people, but because it is Jesus Himself who endured it all for us. And it is this same Jesus who is transforming us into His likeness as we travel with Him to the High Places. 


irene said...

Dear Ginger..
This reminds me of what was spoken in yesterday's Sunday School class.Two words were mentioned as having the same root..."agony and agape".

Ginger said...

I, too, was impressed with that discussion in class yesterday, Irene, and then I came home and read the chapter about the Mountain of Suffering Long and saw the same thing! Agape, the love we associate with God Himself, and agony, come from the same root. Based on one writer, the word agape "can be defined as a sacrificial, giving, absorbing, love. The word has little to do with emotion; it has much to do with self-denial for the sake of another." So there is indeed agony in the kind of love Jesus demonstrated toward us and we toward others.