God at the top of the ladder

Timothy Keller once identified the notion of “God at the top of the ladder” as being a distinguishing factor between Christianity and all other religions. All other religions, he explained, place God at the top of a ladder, where man ascends the ladder by obeying a set of rules in order to reach the top and accept God’s approval. Christianity stands in stark contrast and says “no it is impossible for man to ascend the ladder, but rather God came down the ladder to save man”. Presented in Psalm 24:3-4 is a verse that upon first sight seems to contradict the notion of God descending the ladder to save man. It reads: “Who shall ASCEND unto the hill of the Lord, or who shall stand in his Holy place. He that hath clean hands and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity or sworn deceitfully.” A person reads this, especially if of a different belief, and argues that is this not yet another example that Christianity like all other religions is a set of rules man must obey in order to ASCEND to God! In other words as long as a I live a life where I keep my hands clean God must accept me. The mistake here is in assuming the word “hill” and the word “ladder” are one and the same. When the Bible uses the word “hill” it speaks of a high place where one encounters the glory of God, where the glory of God shines upon a person. For example, the account in Exodus 34 speaks of Moses ascending to Mount Sinai where he caught a glimpse of God’s glory and says in verse 29 of the same chapter that after descending “he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD”. To illustrate my point think of a mirror. A mirror reflects light. The brightness of the light reflected by the mirror is a function of how many blemishes and spots are on the mirror. The more blemishes and spots on the mirror, the dimmer the brightness reflected. The purpose of keeping our hands clean and our hearts pure, in other words obeying the set of rules presented in Christianity, is not to gain God’s approval. But rather our souls are like mirrors. With every sinful act and disobedience of the commands of God, we are stained with envy, lust, jealousy, hatred and the like. We become by operation of spiritual principles, souls with blemishes unable to reflect God’s light. God’s light becomes dimmer and we are unable to see Him clearly. When we like Moses do descend after our encounter with God’s glory, our faces are not radiant. In order words, we do not reflect God’s glory. This is why a Christian still living a life of sin is unable to “let his light shine before men that they may see God’s glory”. The purpose of God’s commands are NOT yet another set of rules to be obeyed to seek His approval but rather are a fundamental component of our relationship with Him. For in obeying Him can we truly see Him, and in seeing His glory can we reflect His light in this dark world!

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