When There's No Human Help, There's God!
- What can we do if our lives are in danger?
- Where can we turn when there's no one to turn to?
- When there's absolutely no human help around, can God help us?
Dave Osborn answers these questions – and he's alive to tell us that God truly does hear and answer our humble and deeply heartfelt prayers.
In 1997, I hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Canada. I had many interesting experiences, but the one that stands out took place on Friday, the 13th of June, in the High Sierra Mountains in California. On the 12th of June, I walked from Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the US outside of Alaska, to Tyndall Creek, which is about 5 miles south of Forester Pass, the highest pass on the P.C.T. at 13,200 feet.
I was by myself that evening. I camped at the banks of Tyndall Creek. When I woke up, I noticed that the wind was blowing from the east (usually it comes from the west), and I suspected that weather was coming in. I quickly packed up my gear and headed north on the trail towards Forester Pass. Within a half hour or so, I was above tree-line traversing snowfields left over from the previous winter. Soon after reaching tree-line, clouds started rolling in, creating heavy cloud cover. The temperature plummeted, and by mid-morning, it was snowing heavily.
I was caught in a late season blizzard at about 12,000 feet. This was before a held-hand GPS (global positioning system) was available. When you lose visibility, when all the trails are buried, and you don't know where you are on the map, finding your route is virtually impossible. I couldn't tell where I was in this giant valley. Before I lost complete visibility, I took a compass bearing and hoped I would hit Forester Path, though I knew it would be like finding a needle in a haystack! Because I was hiking over 2,500 miles overall, every ounce counts. So, I was carrying as little as possible. I had a shell parka, a fleece jacket, and lightweight pants. I didn't have what I needed for this storm, which was full winter mountaineering gear. With the wind and the temperature, I started to freeze -- literally. My fingers were starting to freeze solid. And if your fingers can't undo zippers, which are on your pack and clothing, you're in trouble.
While I was walking, I was praying, of course. Snow was coming down a couple of inches an hour. It was well below freezing, with the wind chill below zero. Even though it was mid-morning, it was twilight dark. The snow blocked off all sunlight, and there were thunderstorms in this blizzard. Lightning was hitting various 14,000-foot peaks. It was quite a phenomenal display. The lighting was blinding because it was lighting up the snow, and then there was the echoing reverberation of the thunder.
At one point, I was praying for any kind of direction. I didn't know how I was going to be delivered, but I was trying to trust God for any type of safety. I thought about the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, who were thrown into the fire (Dan 3). I was in a severe trial, but I thought I'd much prefer freezing to being thrown into a fire and burning to death. That's way worse. And I laughed a bit. They were fine; they weren't even touched. Hopefully, I would be untouched, too.
That's when I realized I had no human help or hope. The rangers from either Sequoia or Kings Canyon National Parks hadn't come in yet. I knew the closest thru-hikers were about a half a day ahead and about a day behind. There was no one within 100 square miles. No one knew of my situation, not even my family. I had told them I would call them from Yosemite over the July 4th weekend. There wasn't going to be a rescue party coming for me.
I had hit rock bottom. I was physically freezing and didn't know where I was. I took my camera out and took a couple of "death shots." Some people will take pictures of themselves with a fake smile to comfort their family. The flash went off. I still have those pictures. I did a terrible job of acting. My smile looks fake, and you can tell I'm mortified.
In desperation, I reached out to God. I had no other hope than God. It's funny: we often look to God as our last resort when God is actually our best resort. Even though I had been praying for hours, I hadn't really turned whole-heartedly to God. I'm sure I was still thinking in the back of my mind, "I can get out of this; I've done it before." But I realized I couldn't get out of it, and I couldn't do a thing: "I can of mine own self do nothing" (John 5:30). This was the first time I could honestly say this. Usually my ego was involved. But this time, I didn't have a chance on my own, and there was no chance of any human help coming in any form.
I was on my own with God. What happened next was beautiful. There was a complete surrendering -- not to death but to God. I don't know how long I sat there. But at a certain point, you have no other options; your palms are up; and you put yourself in God's hands completely. There's no more human will because there's nothing you can do, and you're willing to do anything: "… not my will, but thine, be done" (Luke 22:42). When I hit rock bottom and felt complete humility and complete surrender of human selfhood, something remarkable happened: the clouds instantly parted around the sun, and the sun beamed down. The heavy snow went to light flurries, and the sun lit up the fresh snow brilliantly.
I looked up, and I could see Forester Pass about a mile away. I grabbed my backpack and with tears of gratitude, I scrambled up the cliff with my ice axe. When I got to the notch, I found a flower that looked like a violet, a high altitude wildflower encased in pure ice, like glass. I was looking thorough the glass-like ice to this perfectly preserved flower. It looked like the flower would be untouched from this violent storm. It was kind of a symbol for me: I had been preserved untouched. The freezing disappeared, and I was completely unharmed. This experience had a huge impact on my life.
I could see that in my life there needed to be a surrendering of human self to God. We read in Ephesians "[t]hat ye put off … the old man … And that ye put on the new man" who is not after human success, achievement, or accolades, but is one of God's children, "created in righteousness and true holiness" (4:22, 24). I could see the process that was involved -- a dropping of human self, a yielding, or rather, a surrendering, to God. For me, this yielding is an ongoing process. There are no limits involved. It's done step by step, just like walking a trail.