Living in Colorado, I climb mountains. Colorado has 54 mountains rising above 14,000 ft and every summer I climb some of them. On a summer weekend in the mountains, I see casual hikers who have no idea what they are doing. In sandals, shorts, and T-shirts, carrying a single container of water, they start up a trail at mid-morning. They have no map, no compass, and no rain gear. They also have no apparent knowledge of the lightning storms that roll in many summer afternoons, making it imperative to summit before noon and head for the safety of the timberline (the elevation in a mountainous region above which trees do not grow).
My neighbour, who volunteers for Alpine Rescue, has told me hair-raising stories of tourists who must be rescued from certain death after wandering off a trail, falling, or simply being exposed to a sudden hailstorm or 30-degree drop in temperature. Nevertheless, regardless of the circumstances, Alpine Rescue always responds to a call for help. Not once have they lectured a hapless tourist, "Well, since you obviously ignored the most basic rules of the wilderness, you’ll just have to sit here and bear the consequences. We won’t assist you."
Their mission is rescue, and so they pursue every needy hiker in the wilderness, no matter how undeserving. A whistle, a cry, a flashing mirror, a bonfire, an "SOS spelled out in pine branches, a message of distress from a cellphone - any of these signals will cause Alpine Rescue to mobilize teams of medically trained searchers.
I have come to see the central message of the Bible, too, as one of rescue. In the book of Romans, Paul takes pains to point out that none of us ’deserve’ God’s mercy and none of us can save ourselves. Like a stranded hiker, all we can do it call for help.
A hardened park ranger could look at the efforts of Alpine Rescue as indulging the bad habits of ...
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